GARA-BOKKA, Ethiopia/Washington—The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told airlines on March 11 that it was safe to fly 737 MAX 8 planes as investigators found two black box recorders that will help piece together the final moments of an Ethiopian Airlines jet before it plunged to the ground on Sunday, March 10The plane crashed .
China and Indonesia grounded their fleets of 737 MAX 8 aircraft earlier on Monday, citing safety concerns, contributing to a drop in Boeing shares that wiped billions of dollars off the market value of the world’s biggest plane maker.
The plane crashed killing 157 people.
Late on Monday, the FAA issued a “continued airworthiness notification” to assure operators of the plane that it was safe to fly. It said it was collecting data on the crash and keeping in contact with international civil aviation authorities and would take immediate action if it identified any safety issues.
The FAA also publicly detailed for the first time a series of design changes and training requirements mandated from Boeing on the MAX fleet after a jet of the same model came down in Indonesia in October and killed 189 people.
“This is welcome information on the enhancements to address shortfalls that our pilots noted after Lion Air, which is a silver lining,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the American Airlines pilot union and a 737 pilot.
Major airlines from North America to the Middle East kept flying the MAX on Monday, though Gol in Brazil joined other smaller carriers in temporarily suspending MAX 8 flights and Argentina’s Association of Airline Pilots ordered its members not to fly the MAX series.
Southwest Airlines, which operates the largest fleet of 737 MAX 8s, said it remained confident in the safety of all its Boeing planes even as it received a rush of queries from customers wanting to know if they were booked to fly on a 737 MAX 8.
“Our customer relations team is responding to these customers individually, emphasizing our friendly, no-change-fee policy,” the No. 4 U.S. airline said in a statement.
The discovery of black box recorders means the cause of the crash may be quickly understood, as long as recordings are not damaged, although it typically takes a year for a full detailed investigation to be completed.
Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg said he was confident in the safety of the 737 MAX in an email to employees, which was seen by Reuters.
The planemaker, the airline, and its insurers face big claims after the crash, industry sources said. The insured value of the plane itself was likely around $50 million.
On top of that, Boeing may face lawsuits from victims’ families in the United States, where legal compensation payments for people killed in plane crashes could run around $2 million to $3 million per person, depending on the law applied, compared to about $200,000 in Ethiopia, according to Justin Green, a New York-based aviation lawyer who has represented families in cases against Boeing.
Boeing declined to comment on its insurance cover.
The company’s share price briefly had its biggest one-day drop since the attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, falling as much as 13.5 percent early on Monday on fears that two crashes in such a short time could reveal flaws in the new plane.
Some investors saw that dip as an opportunity to buy Boeing shares, which have tripled in value over the past three years, sparking a recovery. The shares closed down 5.3 percent at $400.01.
‘Smoke and Sparks’
The Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 plunged into farmland minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa for Nairobi.
“The plane was very close to the ground and it made a turn. We looked and saw papers falling off the plane,” Malka Galato, the farmer whose land the plane crashed on, told Reuters. “Cows that were grazing in the fields ran in panic. … There was smoke and sparks coming from the back of the plane.”
The plane tried to climb but failed, then swerved sharply trailing white smoke and objects including clothes before crashing, said farmer Tamirat Abera.
The victims came from more than 30 countries, and the United Nations said they included 21 members of its staff. The world body had earlier said 22 of its staff were on board.
By Aaron Maasho, Duncan Miriri, and David Shepardson