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A worker stands near a Boeing 737 MAX 8 at Boeing Co.’s Renton Assembly Plant in Renton, Washington. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Aviation experts on Tuesday called for a calmer examination of facts around Boeing’s 737 MAXs, even as international regulators rushed to suspend commercial operations of the aircraft after the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

Boeing’s twin disasters involving its newest single-aisle jet add to the history of rare aviation accidents that call into question the safety of the planes themselves.

Back-to-back incidents in which the aircraft is probed as a possible culprit are far less common than the usual litany of pilot error, mechanical failure, weather, war and terrorism. While investigators are still piecing together the crash in Ethiopia, the initial similarities with the Indonesia disaster in October - rapid pitching and dropping of the nose after takeoff - stirred immediate speculation into a connection involving the plane’s design. The MAX is the latest variant of the 737, a short-haul workhorse that is the world’s most widely flown jetliner.

But several analysts told Gulf News that there was simply not enough data yet around the cause of the crash on Sunday to question the aircraft.

Still, aviation regulators from more than a dozen countries - ranging from China and the UK to Singapore, Australia, Germany and Norway - ordered their domestic airlines to temporarily halt the use of Boeing 737 MAXs and closed their airspace to the aircraft variant. Oman followed suit, with the aviation regulator saying it had “temporarily suspended” operations of 737 MAX at its airports. In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) took a different approach, declining to order the suspension of Boeing 737 MAX 8s, suggesting that the aircraft remains safe to use.

Ongoing investigations

Local carrier flydubai cited the FAA notification yesterday on the “continued airworthiness” of Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft. A spokesperson for flydubai said that “no further action is required at this time” but they were “continuing to follow closely the ongoing investigations”.

Some analysts warned that there was very little information so far to call for the grounding of the Boeing model. John Strickland, director of JLS Consulting in London, said it was “unusual” to see some of the groundings around the world. “There has to be an abundance in caution, but you equally do not take massive steps, such as grounding aircraft, unless you have a clear and factual reason to do so,” he told Gulf News. “There’s no doubt there’s pressure but the challenge is trying to differentiate between the apparent similarities of two accidents and not jumping to quick conclusions… The things that on the face may look similar may have no bearings on reality,” added Strickland.

Boeing to upgrade software

Amid the global turmoil, Boeing said it will deploy a software upgrade to the 737 MAX 8, a few hours after the FAA said it would mandate “design changes” in the aircraft by April. The company said in the aftermath of Lion Air crash it has for several months “been developing a flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer.” The upgrade “will be deployed across the 737 MAX fleet in the coming weeks,” it said.

Boeing and its partners are no stranger to new models plagued by teething difficulties. McDonnell Douglas, a planemaker later acquired by Boeing, had its entire DC-10 fleet grounded in 1979 by the FAA after an American Airlines jet lost an engine on takeoff. Regulators allowed the plane to be flown and a decade later, 111 people died on a United Airlines DC-10 crash. US and European regulators moved promptly to ground Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner in 2013 to investigate a series of battery fires. Boeing got the plane flying again in less than four months following a redesign of crucial battery components.

“While two or three elements are similar, aircraft accidents are always influenced by so many random factors and so many unexpected elements, but it’s only when you analyse the facts that you can tell what happened,” Strickland said.