Boeing faces more trouble after crash of a Ukrainian 737 jet in Iran

Posted January 8, 2020 8:21 a.m. EST

— Another tragic airline crash Wednesday could cause more problems for Boeing.

A three-year old Boeing 737-800 jet operated by Ukraine International Airlines crashed soon after takeoff from Tehran's international airport early Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.

Iranian aviation authorities have begun an investigation. An early report from Iran's semi-official news agency ISNA blamed some kind of engine failure. But Ukrainian officials say it's too early to determine the cause, and Ukraine's embassy in Iran retracted a statement that also attributed the crash to an engine malfunction.

The 737-800 is not the 737 Max, which has gotten so much attention since two fatal crashes caused the grounding of the jet worldwide in March of 2018. All those planes remain grounded.

But the 800 version of the jet, also known as a 737 Next Generation or NG, has had its own problems. Boeing has delivered about 6,700 of these jets to airlines around the world.

In April 2018, parts of the engine on a Southwest Airlines flight hit the side of the plane and shattered a window after a fan blade broke. The cabin depressurized and the woman sitting next to the window was killed.

In November 2019, the US National Transportation Safety Board recommended that Boeing redesign the outer covering of the planes' engines to prevent it from flying into the plane should a fan blade break on a future flight. It said that all Boeing 737 Next Generation series airplanes should be retrofitted with whatever fix Boeing comes up with.

Boeing said in November it is working on a fix for the jet covers.

But the 737 NG has other problems. Cracks have been discovered on structural supports that hold the wings in place, and several dozen have been grounded as a result. But while the FAA has ordered inspections, most of the 737 NGs have continued to fly.

Boeing's stock was down 1% in premarket trading following the crash, though shares recovered some of their earlier losses.

The company issued a statement Wednesday expressing condolences for the latest crash.

"This is a tragic event and our heartfelt thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families. We are in contact with our airline customer and stand by them in this difficult time. We are ready to assist in any way needed," said Boeing's statement.

The investigation will be made more difficult by where the crash took place, just outside Tehran, in the midst of rising tensions between Iran and the United States.

Iran says it will not hand over the black boxes from the Ukrainian Airlines Boeing 737 to American authorities. Speaking to Iran's semiofficial Mehr news agency, the head of Iran's Civil Aviation Authority, Ali Abedzadeh said that the black boxes would be analyzed in the country where the accident took place, in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization rules. He also said Ukrainian investigators would be a part of the process.

"We will not give the black box to the manufacturer [Boeing] or America," he said.

Tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated after the recent US strike that killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani. Iran fired missiles late Tuesday at two Iranian bases in Iraq where American military personnel are located. Initial reports indicated there were no fatalities from that attack, which occurred just hours before the plane crash.

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