Ethiopian Airlines still evaluating Boeing's changes on 737 Max

CEO says airline to decide on taking delivery of remaining Max jets on order after ban lifts

An Ethiopian Boeing 737 flight leaves the hanger in Nairobi on January 26, 2010. The crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet, in which 90 people are feared dead on January 25, 2010, comes as a blow to a company considered the jewel of Ethiopia's industry and tipped for exponential growth. AFP PHOTO/SIMON MAINA (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP)
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Ethiopian Airlines, which suffered a crash of one of its Boeing 737 Max jets in March, has yet to make a decision on whether it will take delivery of its remaining order of the grounded narrow-body planes, its chief executive said.

The airline will make a decision once the aircraft returns to service, Tewolde Gebremariam said at the Dubai Airshow on Sunday. Ethiopian Airlines is still evaluating Boeing's fixes to the embattled jet.

“It’s work in progress and we’re working together but it’s not yet complete, so we have to see it completed and also the results of further tests that they’re going to make,” he said.

The airline has grounded its fleet of four 737 Max jets after the model was involved in two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia within a span of five months, killing 346 people.

Boeing is working on changes to the aircraft and expects re-certification of the jet by the US aviation regulator next month. The plane manufacturer is speaking to customers at the Dubai Airshow this week about its efforts to return the Max to commercial service in January.

Ethiopian Airlines and Boeing are discussing the arrangements for compensation from the grounding of its Max fleet, the chief executive said, declining to reveal the value.

“We’ve been partners for the life of the airline, starting from the McDonnell Douglas [jets], so it’s a complex and long-time relationship,” he said.

Asked for his views on Boeing’s handling of the Max crisis and what the plane maker could have done differently, he said: “Its work in progress, so let’s wait patiently and see the final return to service.”

Ethiopian Airlines, whose fiscal year runs from July to June, has recorded "good" growth in the first half of the year, despite the grounding of its Max fleet and a slowdown in air cargo volumes.

“It’s not only the grounding, the market is slowing down, especially on the freighter and cargo market, but under those circumstances, it’s been good,” he said.

Ethiopian Airlines expects its revenue and passenger traffic to grow in the single-digits in the second half of the year, Mr Gebremariam said.

“The second half is slack season for us, so we will see,” he said.

The chief executive's comments came after Ethiopian Airlines and the US plane maker held a press conference at the biennial expo to announce a 787 services agreement. Under the deal, Boeing will retrofit internet connectivity for Ethiopian Airlines' 787 Dreamliner fleet.

It will provide engineering, design and project management for the modification along with on-site technical assistance and training for the airline's in-house maintenance, repair and operations service team.

Asked if there was apprehension in signing a deal with Boeing, Mr Gebremariam said the agreement involved the 787 wide-body and that the airline’s trust in Boeing is still intact.

“Boeing is a 100 year-old, high-quality engineering company, so we have to trust,” he said.