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Airline's excellent safety record tarnished after storm crash

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-01-25

The tragic crash of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 on Monday is all the more shocking for both the airline’s excellent safety record and the fact that the aeroplane was relatively new, an industry expert tells FRANCE 24.

Ethiopian Airlines, who lost a jet in a crash off the coast of Lebanon on Monday, is one of Africa's fastest growing airlines whose safety record has been “a beacon” for the rest of Africa.

The airliner, carrying 90 passengers and crew, plunged into the Mediterranean sea after take off from Beirut early on Monday during a fierce storm which is a likely cause for the accident.

"Bad weather was apparently the cause of the crash," Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr told reporters. "We have ruled out foul play so far," he added, echoing comments earlier by President Michel Sleiman.

Excellent safety record

Until flight 409 lost contact with Beirut airport control shortly after take off, Ethiopian had a better safety record than any other African airline, with the exception of South African Airways, industry sources said.

In an interview with FRANCE 24, David Learmount, aviation expert and editor at industry magazine Flight International said it was unlikely the aircraft had crashed due to mechanical problems.

“Ethiopian Airlines has, until this, been absolutely a beacon of light,” he said. “It’s got an exceptional safety record.”

Learmount also noted that the plane that went down was “from the latest version of the 737 series”, making the crash even more unusual. “We have a first class airline and a first class aeroplane, and there’s been an accident,” he said. “Some 737s still flying were made 40 years ago.”

757 in emergency landing

Earlier this month, one of the company's 757 planes made an emergency landing at Malta's airport while on its way from Addis Ababa to Rome. The pilot reported a problem with one of the two engines. The passengers continued their journey via London Heathrow while the plane and its crew remained in Malta.

Other major security incidents involving Ethiopian Airlines go back more than a decade.

The last major incident involving Ethiopian Airlines was in November 1996 when 125 of the 175 passengers and crew died after a hijacked Boeing 767 crashed into the sea off the Comoros islands.

On its website Ethiopian Airlines says that it hopes to increase revenue to one billion dollars and to increase the number of destinations it serves to 60 in 2010.

The company employs more than 5,000 people, currently has a fleet of 37 aircraft and 35 more on order.

Last week Boeing said that Ethiopian had ordered ten 737-800 jets, in a deal valued at 767 million dollars.

 

Date created : 2010-01-25

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