190310 Ethiopian Airlines 1
Wreckage lies at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed shortly after takeoff at Hejere near Bishoftu, or Debre Zeit, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia Sunday, March 10, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Ethiopian Airlines said Thursday that the black box flight recorders from the Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed with 157 people on board, have been flown to Paris for analysis.

"An Ethiopian delegation led by Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) has flown the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) to Paris, France for investigation," the airline wrote on Twitter.

Germany declines request

Germany’s Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation (BFU) said on Wednesday it will not analyse the black box from the Ethiopian Airlines passenger jet which crashed soon after taking off from Addis Ababa on Sunday.

This led to some uncertainty for a couple of hours before the French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) announced late on Wednesday that they would analyse the black-box flight recorders.

The chief executive officer of Ethiopian Airlines, Tewolde GebreMariam, told CNN on Wednesday that the black boxes from Sunday's plane crash in Ethiopia would be sent to a "closer country in Europe" rather than the United States for analysis.

Later on, an airline spokesperson reportedly confirmed that the country in question was Germany. However, just hours later, Germany's BFU issued a statement reasoning their rejection of the request.

“This is a new type of aircraft with a new black box, with new software. We can’t do it,” BFU spokesperson Germout Freitag told the media.

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The black boxes from the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 will arrive in Paris for analysis on Thursday morning. The BEA is one of the world’s most active air crash agencies alongside the National Transportation Safety Board of the United States and has laboratories at its Le Bourget headquarters.

A spokesman for the BEA said they wouldn't be announcing the results. "Only the Ethiopian authorities will report on the progress of the investigation. There will be no press conference," a BEA spokesman told CNN.

Boeing woes

The 737, which first entered service in the late 1960s, is the aviation industry’s best-selling model and Boeing’s top earner. The re-engined Max version has racked up more than 5,000 orders worth in excess of $600 billion. 

When Indonesian carrier Lion Air's Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed on October 29 in 2018 killing all 189 people on board, Boeing pointed to maintenance issues and human error as the underlying cause, even though the plane’s pilots reportedly had been battling a computerised system that took control following a sensor malfunction. Ethiopian Airlines CEO also said that the pilots had complained about 'flight control problems'.

Just over 4 months later, the Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10 - killing 157 people - has triggered increasing global pressure on the manufacturer over safety concerns and software issues with the aircraft model. Ethiopian Airlines CEO told CNN Wednesday that the pilots had complained about 'flight control problems'.

The day after the crash, without referring to Ethiopian tragedy directly, Boeing Co. said it would deploy a software upgrade to the 737 MAX 8, a few hours after the Federal Aviation Administration said it would mandate “design changes” in the aircraft by April.

190310 flight 302
People walk at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Image Credit: Reuters

It seems, however, that this statement or the following ones over the week from Boeing on their trust in the model, did nothing to allay global fears and a total of 50 countries, including the US, has either grounded or banned the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes. 

Banned and/or grounded

Of the more than 370 Boeing 737 Max jets in global fleets, 74 are flown by US airlines, according to the FAA. Those include United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines.

Mexico also took action against Boeing 737 Max 8 planes on Wednesday evening, just hours after the US' decision to suspend the planes' operation inside the country.

The General Directorate of Civil Aviation said they were banned until further notice to "guarantee the safety and confidence" of aircraft flying in Mexican airspace.

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On Thursday, South Korea and Thailand joined the list of countries that have suspended operations of the planes

South Korea's largest airline, Korean Air, announced it would be putting on hold plans to introduce Boeing 737 Max 8s into their fleet.

Thailand's Civil Aviation Authority announced all operations of Max 8 and Max 9 planes would be temporarily suspended until midnight on March 20.

Some of the other countries that have moved to ground the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft include India, China, the European Union, the UK, Canada and Australia.

- With inputs from Reuters, IANS