China’s aviation regulator said on Monday it had ordered Chinese airlines to suspend their Boeing Co 737 MAX aircraft operations by 6 p.m. (5.00 a.m. ET) following a deadly crash of one of the planes in Ethiopia.
An Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 bound for Nairobi crashed minutes after take-off on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board.
It was the second crash of the 737 MAX, the latest version of Boeing’s workhorse narrow-body jet that first entered service in 2017.
In October, a 737 MAX 8 operated by Indonesian budget carrier Lion Air crashed 13 minutes after take-off from Jakarta on a domestic flight, killing all 189 passengers and crew on board.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in a statement it would notify airlines as to when they could resume flying the jets after contacting Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure flight safety.
“Given that two accidents both involved newly delivered Boeing 737-8 planes and happened during take-off phase, they have some degree of similarity,” the CAAC said, adding that the order was in line with its principle of zero-tolerance on safety harzards. The 737 MAX 8 is sometimes referred to as the 737-8.
The cause of the Indonesian crash is still being investigated. A preliminary report issued in November, before the cockpit voice recorder was recovered, focused on airline maintenance and training and the response of a Boeing anti-stall system to a recently replaced sensor but did not give a reason for the crash.
Chinese airlines have 96 737 MAX jets in service, the state company regulator said on Weibo.
Caijing, a Chinese state-run news outlet that covers finance and economics, said many flights scheduled to use 737 MAX planes would instead use the 737-800 models.
A Boeing spokesman declined to comment.
A U.S. official told Reuters the United States was unsure of what information China was acting on.
The U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said there were no plans to follow suit given the 737 MAX had a stellar safety record in the United States and there was a lack of information about the cause of the Ethiopian crash.
Western industry sources say China has been at pains in recent years to assert its independence as a safety regulator as it negotiates mutual safety standard recognition with regulators in the United States and Europe.
In 2017, it signed a mutual recognition deal with the FAA, but industry sources say it has struggled to gain approval from the FAA that would allow it to sell its C919 airliner to Western airlines.