PARIS/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX jets after the crash in Ethiopia has had no immediate financial impact on airlines using the planes, but it will get painful for the industry the longer they do not fly, companies and analysts said on Friday.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed soon after take-off from Addis Ababa last weekend, killing 157 people, the second such calamity involving Boeing’s flagship new model after a jet came down off Indonesia in October with 189 people on board.
Investigators in France on Friday examined the black boxes of the jet that crashed in Ethiopia as the global airline industry waited to see if the cause was similar to the disaster in Indonesia.
Regulators have grounded the 737 MAX around the world, and the U.S. planemaker has halted deliveries of the several thousand on order for a model intended to be the future industry workhorse.
Air Canada and United Airlines on Friday became the first major carriers in North America to warn of negative financial implications to business as a consequence of the grounding of the Boeing planes.
Canada’s biggest carrier Air Canada suspended its 2019 financial forecasts, while United Airlines, the No. 3 U.S. carrier, said it would see an adverse effect on its operations if the jets remained grounded heading into the peak summer travel season.
U.S. bank Citi said it expected the grounding to eat into the profits of Southwest Airlines, which operates the world’s biggest 737 MAX fleet, causing a plane shortage for the carrier and likely passenger compensation costs.
For airlines that over-ordered the 737 MAX, the grounding could provide an excuse to delay or cancel purchases, analysts said, though others are scrambling to adjust business plans that bet heavily on the fuel-efficient, longer-range jets.
In both crashes, pilots asked to return minutes into flight.
“It looks like the Lion Air, because the flight only lasted for six minutes,” Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Tewolde Gebremariam told state Chinese state news agency Xinhua on Friday. “There is clear similarity between our crash and the Lion Air crash.”
Reuters was not able to reach Tewolde for comment. A link between the two accidents makes blame more likely to lie with Boeing and less likely with the airline.
Parallels between the twin disasters have frightened travelers worldwide and wiped billions of dollars off Boeing stock.
U.S. authorities say information from the wreckage in Ethiopia and data on its flight path show some similarities.
Two sources said investigators retrieved a piece of a stabilizer, which moves the nose up and down, set in an unusual position – similar to that of the Lion Air plane that crashed in Indonesia.
Pilots were waiting anxiously for results of the investigation.
“Looking at the crash site photos, the aircraft appears to have nose-dived,” Paul Gichinga, former head of the Kenya Airline Pilots Association, told Reuters.
“The pilot must have gotten some sort of indication that maybe the airspeed was unreliable or something and decided, instead of climbing and going to sort out the problem up there, the best thing was to return to have it sorted.”
U.S. President Donald Trump spoke by telephone on Friday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed about the crash, according to the White House.
“The president reiterated his sorrow over the loss of life and underscored America’s commitment to work with the government of Ethiopia – a longstanding partner and friend of the United States – and international civil aviation authorities to determine the cause of the crash,” the White House said in a statement.
BOEING PLANS NEW SOFTWARE
Boeing, the world’s biggest planemaker, has said the 737 MAX is safe, though it plans to roll out a software upgrade in coming weeks. Despite pausing shipments, it continued to produce at full speed at its factory near Seattle.
Boeing and U.S. air safety regulators have been at odds over how much pilot training will be required along with the software fix, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
Citing unnamed sources, it said Boeing was advocating mainly written material be sent to pilots explaining “operation of the automated stall-prevention feature – and how to respond if it malfunctions.” The Federal Aviation Administration wanted pilots go through instructions on a laptop computer, it said.
French authorities have the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, though Ethiopia is formally leading the investigation and U.S. experts are in Paris and Addis Ababa too.
First conclusions could take several days.
The New York Times said the captain, Yared Getachew, initially reported a “flight control” problem in a calm voice before asking to return in panicked tones three minutes into the flight. “Break break, request back to home,” he told controllers, the newspaper reported.
The jet initially flew below the minimum safe height for its climb, then once at higher altitude was oscillating up and down by hundreds of feet, all at abnormally fast speed, the Times said. It then disappeared from radar over a military zone and lost contact with controllers five minutes after take-off.
In Ethiopia, relatives have been visiting the charred and debris-strewn field to pay last respects. The victims came from 35 nations.
Diplomats fear trucks and excavators at the site could be destroying vital evidence, while some policemen have been taking selfies inside the security cordon.
FAMILIES ‘STUCK AND EMOTIONAL’
Israeli Ilan Matsliah came to Ethiopia thinking it would be quick to find the remains of his brother for burial in accordance with Jewish tradition.
“More than 24 hours is a problem for us. But I have been here for more than 96 hours,” the 46-year-old told Reuters.
“We are now stuck in the same place, the same as Monday. We are very emotional.”
With heightened global scrutiny, the head of Indonesia’s transport safety committee said a report into the Lion Air crash would be speeded up for release in July or August.
A preliminary report focused on maintenance, training and an anti-stall system. Elsewhere, a potential new Chinese order for more than 100 jets worth well over $10 billion was put in doubt.
Legal experts said even non-U.S. families of the Ethiopia victims may be able to sue Chicago-based Boeing in the United States – where payouts are larger – as eight of the dead were American and plaintiffs may argue liability hinges on system design and safety decisions made by executives.
Reporting by Richard Lough, Tim Hepher in Paris; Duncan Miriri and Aaron Masho in Addis Ababa; Omar Mohammed, Katharine Houreld and Maggie Fick in Nairobi; David Shephardson and Jeff Mason in Washington; Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Rishika Chatterjee, Rachit Vats, Savio D’Souza and Debroop Roy in Bengaluru; Jamie Freed in Singapore; and Josephine Mason in London; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Ben Klayman; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Nick Zieminski and Sonya Hepinstall
Exit poll has Thai opposition winning most seats but not enough for government
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai voters flocked to the polls on Sunday for the first election since a 2014 coup, and an exit poll indicated the populist party linked to exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra would win the most seats, but not enough to form a government.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (L) prepares to vote in the general election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
The race has pitted military junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha seeking to retain power and stay on as prime minister against a “democratic front” led by the Pheu Thai Party loyal to Thaksin.
Thailand has been under direct military rule since then-army chief Prayuth overthrew an elected pro-Thaksin government in 2014. Former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin was thrown out by the army in 2006 and has lived in self-exile since 2008.
Unofficial results of Thailand’s first general election since 2011, from the Election Commission, were not due for several hours.
However, immediately after polls closed at 5 p.m. (1000 GMT) the Thai PBS channel aired an exit poll by Thai research center Super Poll that indicated Pheu Thai would win 163 seats in the 500-seat House of Representatives.
The same exit poll indicated junta chief’s Palang Pracharat would win 96 seats, the establishment Democrat Party 77 seats, the Bhumjaithai Party 59 seats and the new Future Forward Party 40 seats.
If correct, the projection would mean that Pheu Thai would not have enough votes to form a majority government in its hoped-for “democratic front” with other parties.
Prayuth’s Palang Pracharat party also could not form a government on its own, but it would have a better chance to form a coalition needed to elect a prime minister due to junta-written electoral rules that favor it.
Turnout was estimated to be high as 80 percent among the 51.4 million Thais eligible to vote, the Election Commission said about an hour before the polls closed.
Critics have said a new, junta-written electoral system gives a built-in advantage to pro-military parties and appears designed to prevent the Thaksin-linked Pheu Thai Party from returning to power.
Voters are choosing the 500-seat House of Representatives. The lower house of parliament and an upper house Senate, which is appointed entirely by the ruling junta, will select the next government.
Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election since 2001, but the past 15 years have seen crippling street protests both by his opponents and supporters that destabilized governments and hamstrung business.
Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by John Chalmers, Robert Birsel
Thousands attend NZ vigil, rally to fight racism, remember Christchurch victims
CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – Thousands gathered in New Zealand’s cities on Sunday to protest racism and remember the 50 Muslims killed by a gunman in Christchurch and as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a national remembrance service to be held later this week.
People attend a vigil for victims of the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
About 15,000 turned out for an evening vigil in Christchurch in a park near the Al Noor mosque, where a suspected white supremacist killed more than 40 of the victims. Several more people were killed at the nearby Linwood mosque.
Many non-Muslim women wore headscarves at the vigil, some made by members of Christchurch’s Muslim community, to show their support for those of Islamic faith as they had at similar events last week.
Ardern said on Sunday that a national remembrance service would be held on March 29 to honor the victims, most of whom were migrants or refugees.
“The service will be a chance to once again show that New Zealanders are compassionate, inclusive and diverse, and that we will protect those values,” Ardern said in a statement.
The prime minister has been praised for her leadership following the attack. She swiftly moved to denounce the incident as terrorism, toughen gun laws and express national solidarity with the victims and their families.
The vigil started with an Islamic prayer, followed by a reading of the names of the victims, which included students from the nearby Cashmere High School.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can,” Okirano Tilaia, one of the school’s pupils, told the crowd. “Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can.”
Earlier in the day more than 1,000 people marched in a rally against racism in central Auckland, carrying “Migrant lives matters” and “Refugees welcome here,” placards.
Muslims account for just over 1 percent of New Zealand’s 4.8-million population, a 2013 census showed, most of whom were born overseas.
As New Zealand continued to mourn and ask questions about how such an attack could have happened in the peaceful Pacific nation, the victims’ families spoke about their losses.
Shahadat Hossain, whose brother Mojammel Haque was killed in the attack, arrived in New Zealand on Saturday to bring his brother’s body back to Bangladesh.
“I can’t describe how I felt when I saw my brother’s lifeless body,” he told Reuters. “I was devastated.”
Farid Ahmed, who was at the Al Noor mosque when the shooting took place, escaped but his wife, Husna, was killed. On Sunday, he went door-to-door, thanking his neighbors for their support.
“They came running… they were crying, they were in tears,” he said of his neighbors when they found out that Husna had died.
“That was a wonderful support and expression of love, and I am feeling that I should also take the opportunity to say to them that I also love them.”
Reporting by Jill Gralow Natasha Howitt, Charlotte Greenfield in Christchurch, Ruma Paul in Dhaka, James Redmayne and Tom Westbrook in Sydney; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Sam Holmes
Almost 400 people winched from stricken cruise liner off Norway
OSLO (Reuters) – Rescue services had airlifted 397 people to safety from a luxury cruise liner with engine trouble off the coast of Norway by Sunday morning and were preparing to tow the vessel to a nearby port.
The Viking Sky, with 1,373 passengers and crew on board, sent out a mayday signal on Saturday as it drifted towards land in the Norwegian Sea.
The ship was carrying 915 passengers, of whom “a large number” were from the United States and Britain, according to the rescue services.
Some 17 injured passengers had been taken to hospital, a local rescue coordinator told a news conference early on Sunday, while others suffered minor cuts and bruises.
One was taken to St. Olav’s Hospital in the town of Trondheim, which is central Norway’s most advanced medical facility. Others were taken to local hospitals in the region.
“Many have also been traumatized by the experience and need care when they arrive on shore,” the Norwegian Red Cross said in a statement.
The airlift had gone on through the night. The ship has been able to restart three of its four engines on Sunday morning but still needed assistance.
“The evacuation continues at the request of the vessel … they need tugboats to get to port,” rescue service spokesman Per Fjeld said, adding that the plan was to bring the Viking Sky to the town of Molde.
Rescue services have begun to attach lines to the ship from tugboats to begin towing it towards the port.
Stormy weather conditions had improved in the early hours of Sunday, with winds blowing at 14 meters per second, down from 24 meters per second previously, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The wind speeds are expected to fall further during Sunday.
Images and film posted by passengers on social media showed furniture sliding around as the vessel drifted in waves of up to eight meters (26 feet), and passengers earlier described the ordeal.
“We were having lunch when it began to shake. Window panes were broken and water came in. It was just chaos. The trip on the helicopter, I would rather forget. It was not fun,” American passenger John Curry told public broadcaster NRK on Saturday.
The stretch of water known as Hustadvika and surrounding areas are known for fierce weather and shallow waters dotted with reefs.
Viking Cruises, which owns the ship, on Saturday said the safety of passengers was its top priority. The company was not immediately available for further comment on Sunday.
Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Jane Merriman/Keith Weir
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