Ethiopian Airlines plans to resume flights on Boeing Co. 737 Max jets in July after analyzing changes to the model that crashed in the country almost two years ago, killing all 157 people on board.
Speaking during a Center for Aviation (CAPA) Live session on Wednesday, Chief Executive Officer Tewolde Gebremariam said that, following a “thorough analysis” covering technical, commercial and operational factors, “we decided to continue with the [Max]”.
That means the operator might resume operations with its four grounded Max 8 jets in July – and that it will also continue with its order for 25 more of the type.
Gebremariam’s comments come after several national and international aviation safety agencies cleared the Max to resume commercial flights.
He also said it would have been economically unfeasible to switch aircraft types given it already operates an older 737 variant.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed outside Addis Ababa less than five months after a similar incident in Indonesia, and the Max single-aisle workhorse is only now winning approvals to return to the skies after almost two years of regulatory scrutiny. Some carriers in the U.S. and South America have already resumed flights, while Europe’s aviation-safety regulator cleared the Max to return to service last month.
Despite Ethiopian’s confidence in the type’s safety, Gebremariam says the carrier still needs “to take time” to convince its employees and passengers “that this airplane is safe beyond any reasonable doubt”.
Regarding Ethiopian’s outstanding orders for 25 Max 8s, Gebremariam states that “diversifying to another airplane in that category is not economically feasible for us”, particularly given the carrier’s existing infrastructure and experience as a 737NG operator.
He also says that Ethiopian is “almost on the final stage” of an “amicable settlement” with Boeing over the March 2019 crash. “I would say we will settle that in the month of February,” Gebremariam says.
Ethiopian Airlines is cash positive even after the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed air travel, Tewolde said. The carrier was quick to respond to a jump in cargo demand, taking out seats in commercial aircraft to haul freight, he said.
(With input from agencies)