Newest Boeing plane becomes big headache

WASHINGTON — Boeing’s newest version of its best-selling airliner ever was supposed to boost its fortunes for years to come.

Instead it has turned into the company’s biggest headache, with more than 40 countries — including the U.S., which had been one of the last holdouts — grounding the 737 Max 8 after a second fatal crash proved one too many.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order keeping the planes on the tarmac after refusing to do so in the days immediately following the crash of a Max 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines that left 157 people dead.

The agency said what made the difference was new, enhanced satellite tracking data and physical evidence on the ground that linked the Ethiopian jet’s movements to those of an Indonesian Lion Air flight that plunged into the Java Sea in October and killed 189 people.

“That evidence aligns the Ethiopian flight closer to Lion Air, what we know happened to Lion Air,” said Daniel Elwell, acting FAA administrator.

Officials at Lion Air have said sensors on their plane produced erroneous information on its last four flights, triggering an automatic nose-down command that the pilots were unable to overcome on its final voyage.

The French air accident investigation authority, known by its French acronym BEA, said today it will handle the analysis of the black boxes retrieved from the crash site.

A BEA official told The Associated Press that they have already arrived in France but gave no time frame on how long the analysis could take. The BEA has experience with global air crashes, and its expertise is often sought whenever an Airbus plane crashes because the manufacturer is based in France.

Since debuting in 2017, Boeing has delivered more than 350 of the Max in several versions that vary by size.

Dozens of airlines around the world have embraced the plane for its fuel efficiency and utility for short and medium-haul flights.

The groundings will have a far-reaching financial impact on Boeing, at least in the short term, said John Cox, a veteran pilot and CEO of Safety Operating Systems.

In addition to the planes that have been grounded, there are more than 4,600 Boeing 737 Max 8 planes on backlog that are not yet delivered to airlines.

Impacted airlines also may come knocking on Boeing’s door claiming damages.

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