Boeing has halted deliveries of its troubled 737 Max aircraft, amid a worldwide grounding that looks set to last at least for weeks.
The Seattle-based manufacturer said it would continue to produce 52 of the planes, its fastest-selling models, every month. But none will be delivered to airlines or leasing companies.
The move comes after US officials said Boeing’s 737 Max 8 and 9 planes would be grounded for weeks, if not longer, until a software upgrade can be tested and installed.
Earlier this week, Boeing bowed to international pressure and grounded all of its 371 Max airliners in service globally. That followed groundings by many nations and airlines, including an initially reluctant US.
Nearly 5000 of the planes have been ordered by airlines from around the world, including Virgin Australia.
Friday’s announcement of the delivery halt came as officials in France prepared to begin analysing the black boxes from the Max 8 that crashed in Ethiopia last weekend, killing all 157 on board.
France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) was to begin its technical analysis of the flight data and cockpit voice recorders on Friday.
The BEA said its first conclusions could take several days, posting a picture of the partly crumpled, orange-cased box to social media.
— BEA | Bureau d'Enquêtes & d'Analyses ✈️ 🚁🛩 🇫🇷 (@BEA_Aero) March 14, 2019
The French investigators will be seeking clues to last weekend’s deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash after take-off from Addis Ababa. It was the second such calamity involving Boeing’s Max 8 since October, after a Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 180 passengers and crew.
Possible links between the accidents have rocked the aviation industry, scared passengers, and left the world’s biggest plane-maker scrambling to prove the safety of a money-spinning model intended to be the standard for decades.
US Representative Rick Larsen said after a briefing with American aviation officials that the planned Max software upgrade would take a few weeks to complete. Installing it on all of the planes would take “at least through April”, he said.
Additional training would be required after the software update was installed.
Meanwhile, relatives of the dead stormed out of a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday (local time), decrying a lack of transparency, while others made the painful trip to the crash scene.
“I can’t find you! Where are you?” said one Ethiopian woman, draped in traditional white mourning shawl, as she held a framed portrait of her brother in the charred and debris-strewn field.
The investigation of last weekend’s crash has added urgency since the US Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday grounded the 737 Max aircraft, citing satellite data and evidence from the scene that indicated some similarities and “the possibility of a shared cause” with October’s crash in Indonesia.
Though it maintains the planes are safe, Boeing has supported the FAA move.
Its stock is down about 11 per cent since the crash, wiping more than $US26 billion off its market value.
And in what may be the first of a raft of claims, Norwegian Air has said it will seek compensation from Boeing for costs and lost revenue after grounding its fleet of 737 Max.
Japan became the latest nation to suspend the planes on Thursday. Airline Garuda Indonesia has also said there is a possibility it will cancel its order for 20 of the aircraft.