(NewsNation) — China has grounded all of China Eastern’s Boeing 737-800s fleet as crews search for the 132 victims in Monday’s plane crash, state media reported.
No survivors have been found among the 123 passengers and nine crew members. The crash Monday of a China Eastern flight comes after years free of major air disasters. The country has not reported a crash of a commercial flight with more than five fatalities since 2010. The ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, also has suffered fatal crashes, but few details are available.
Boeing 737-800s make up about 17% of all planes operating worldwide, according to aviation consultancy Cirium, and is considered one of the “workhorses” of the airline industry.
The Boeing 737-800s has only had 11 fatal accidents in its 25-year history, according to Cirium. Compare to something like the Boeing 737 Max, which is designed to replace the next-generation planes like the one in this crash. The Max has had two fatal accidents since its introduction in 2016, caused by a poorly designed computer system, and was grounded for a year over safety concerns.
It’s important to note the 737-800 does not use the same software system that caused the crashes on the MAX line. But Chinese investigators will be looking at any potential issues with the equipment or software on board that would cause that sudden crash.
Aviation experts said it is unusual to ground an entire fleet of planes unless there is evidence of a problem with the model. China has more 737-800s than any other country — nearly 1,200 — and if identical planes at other Chinese airlines are grounded, it “could have a significant impact on domestic travel,” said aviation consultant IBA.
China Eastern is, along with Air China, China Southern Airlines and HNA Group, one of four major carriers in China, all state-owned. Founded in 1995, the airline is headquartered at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. Its fleet of 749 aircraft includes 291 from the Boeing 737 series, according to its mid-2021 interim report. The carrier has 79,913 employees, mostly in China. It carried 44.3 million passengers in the first half of 2021. China Eastern reported a loss of 5.4 billion yuan ($850 million) in the first half of 2021.
Carriers have suffered heavy financial losses as the government tries to eliminate COVID-19 with a “zero tolerance” strategy that bars most foreign visitors from China and has disrupted travel by suspending access temporarily to major cities. Passenger numbers within China exceeded the United States in 2020 for the first time, according to Boeing Co. That was partly because populous China reopened to domestic travel relatively quickly after the initial coronavirus outbreak. Boeing forecasts 5.4% annual traffic growth and says China should account for one-sixth of future added airline capacity.