- A Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane chartered by Ethiopian Airlines crashed, killing all 157 people on board.
- The plane is the second 737 MAX 8 to crash since October, when a Lion Air flight crashed off the coast of Indonesia, killing 189 people.
- As a result, 22 airlines have grounded their 737 MAX 8 models.
Crash Outside of Addis Ababa
Boeing is facing massive backlash after a brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed outside of Addis Ababa on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board the plane.
Of the 157 people on board Flight 302, 149 were passengers, and eight were crew members. The victims came from over 35 different countries and included at least 22 employees of United Nations-affiliated agencies, who were flying to Nairobi to attend a conference.
The flight took off at 8:38 a.m local time and was chartered by Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa’s largest carriers. Shortly after take-off, the pilot of Flight 302 reportedly made a distress call and requested to return to the airport, which he was granted.
The last transmission from Flight 302 was reported at 8:41 am. Just six minutes after take-off, Flight 302 disappeared from the radar, which is the time it is believed to have crashed.
An eyewitness who saw the crash reported that the plane was “swerving and dipping” before it crashed about 40 miles outside of Addis Ababa.
Ethiopian authorities announced they would investigate the crash with assistance from the U.S., Kenya, and others. Forensic experts from Israel also came to help with the investigation.
Members of the Red Cross could be seen sifting through debris, recovering passports, and other personal documents, among other things.
While the cause of the crash is still unknown, Ethiopian Airlines tweeted that the Digital Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder (also known as the plane’s “black box”) had been recovered.
The black box records a number of inputs like the sounds in the cockpit. That also includes the pilot’s conversations. The recorders are specifically designed to aid investigations in aviation accidents, and the recovery of the black box is expected to provide more information about what caused the crash.
Boeing 737 MAX
If Boeing 737-MAX 8 sounds familiar, it’s because just 4 months ago another Boeing 737-MAX 8 plane known as Lion Air flight 610 crashed off the coast of Indonesia, killing 189 people.
The circumstances surrounding both flights are eerily similar.
The pilot of the Lion Air flight also reported issues within minutes of taking off from Tangerang airport in Jakarta. The pilot also asked air traffic control if they could return to the airport, right before the flight went off the radar.
It was believed the flight crashed within 12 minutes of taking off.
Boeing’s latest iteration of the 737 is the world’s bestselling airliner. More than 300 Boeing 737-MAX planes are currently in operation, and since 2017, more than 5,000 have been ordered worldwide.
That means that Boeing has 4,700 unfilled orders for 737s, which represents 80% of Boeing’s orders backlog. Essentially all 737 orders are for MAX versions.
Boeing released a statement following the crash, saying: “Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane.”
Boeing also stated that they would send a technical team to the crash site to “provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.”
However, Boeing has also said that it does not have new plans for guidance. Charlie Miller, Boeing’s vice president of communications, said in a statement: “The investigation is in its early stages, but at this point, based on the information available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”
Unsurprisingly, Boeing has taken massive heat for the crash. Boeing’s stock dropped more than 12% on Monday morning, though it seemed to rebound some later in the day.
However, according to CNN, the drop puts Boeing on track for its worst day since the first day of trading following the 9/11 terror attacks.
To make matters even worse for Boeing, numerous countries have responded to the crash by grounding their planes.
As of Monday morning, 22 airlines around the world have grounded their 737 MAX 8 planes.
Notably, the Indonesian Transport Ministry announced today that they will temporarily ground of all Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes operated by Indonesian carriers.
This is especially significant because Indonesia had previously grounded all MAX 8’s in the country following the Lion Air crash, but after inspections, the planes were declared safe to fly.
China also announced it would ground all its 737 MAX 8’s, a move that many consider a big deal because China is one of Boeings biggest markets. Nearly a dozen Chinese airlines have ordered 180 planes from Boeing, and only 76 of them have been delivered.
About 85% of Boeing’s Chinese airline orders that have not been filled yet are for 737 MAX planes. Additionally, Boeing has predicted that China will become the world’s first trillion-dollar market for jets within the next few years.
Ethiopian Airlines for its part took more drastic measures, announcing it will take all of its 737 MAX planes out of service entirely. This also has broader implications for the African continent because Ethiopian Airlines is widely considered the best-managed airline in Africa.
Furthermore, the state-owned airline has ambitions of becoming the gateway to the continent and has been expanding its routes and infrastructure significantly.
However, not everyone is grounding their planes. No U.S. airlines have grounded any of their 737 MAX jets. Together, American Airlines, Alaska Air, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines own 65 737 MAX jets, which is only part of 548 jets they have ordered.
Even if they did ground those 65 jets, it would not significantly disrupt US airlines, because they have huge fleets of other planes.
Debate on Automation
Sunday’s crash has ignited the debate on automation and aviation.
The latest iteration of the 737 has been noted for its increased capabilities of flying autonomously, and while that might sound like it would increase safety, that is not always the case.
The Guardian’s, Gwyn Topham compares this to self-driving cars, writing: “It is notable that insurers considering driverless cars worry most about the period when highly autonomous vehicles will coexist with human drivers, the uncertain interface between human and artificial intelligence.”
A big part of the controversy around this comes from pilots around the world following the Lion Air crash. The pilots believed that small software modifications to the MAX 8’s autopilot had not been fully communicated to them, and they were not subject to new training to deal with that software.
Specifically, one new feature of the 737 MAX 8 is that the plane automatically corrects if it believes an angle it is flying at puts it at risk of stalling, a safety feature that as reportedly different from what 737 pilots were used to.
This feature, in particular, is a big deal because the black box from Lion Air flight 610 suggested the pilots of flight had been wrestling with this issue.
Boeing argued that if pilots followed procedures, there should not be a problem. However, past crashes have shown that the sensors which aircraft systems rely on can malfunction. They also show that many pilots who have become used to certain technology do not always know what to do when things go wrong.
Which begs the question of whether or not autonomous technology is worth the risk.
Ethiopian Airlines has said that the pilot of Flight 302 was extremely experienced, with 8,000 hours of flying time. However, aviation experts have criticized the lack of experience of his co-pilot, who only had 200 hours.
Whether or not this will hurt Boeing’s sales will remain to be seen. If anything, it seems like airlines that have requested 737 Max’s might not want those anymore. Since those compose over 80% of Boeing’s backlog, that could seriously harm the company.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CNN) (The Guardian)
Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean
- The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
- The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
- Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
- Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.
Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.
Radioactive or Bad Publicity?
After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”
While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.
According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.
Something Had To Eventually Be Done
Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.
The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.
The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.
Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.
“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.
To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.
Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality
- Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
- “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
- Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
- Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.
Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.
The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.
In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.
“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.
“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”
“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.
Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.
“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.
“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.
Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts
According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.
Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.
Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.
Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.
Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.
Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.
At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.
On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)
Japan To Explore Plans for Releasing Fukushima Power Plant Water Into Ocean
- Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide is reportedly planning to meet with officials and agencies soon to discuss how to dispose of about a million gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima power plant.
- The supply of water used to cool down fuel rods is stored on-site, and the government has spent a decade decontaminating it, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
- Local businesses, particularly fisheries, are still concerned about the release of the water because of ensuing headlines that might lead to public distrust in their products, but Suga insists the water needs to go to make way for safely storing the far more dangerous nuclear fuel rods.
Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.
Dangerous Water or Scary Headlines?
As early as next week, Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide will hold a ministerial meeting to discuss the likely release of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
The decision to release the water isn’t sudden, as the recommendation to do so has been around for over a year by various government agencies. Regardless, the decision has consistently faced backlash from local groups, particularly fisheries, over how the move will affect their livelihoods, not because the water is radioactive but because the headlines would look bad and cause fear that their products aren’t safe.
While the water is radioactive, the government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Some scientists, like geological disposal of nuclear waste expert James Conca, have pointed out that “no harm has ever come to humans or the environment from tritium, no matter what the concentration or the dose.”
Delay, Delay, Delay
The issue of the contaminated water has been kicked down the road for years, and Suga wants to resolve it because space is running out on the grounds of the plant. The water storage facilities house over a million gallons of water, which is constantly being added to as some of the stores have rainwater and groundwater seep into them.
The water is considered safe to people but takes a huge amount of space that the government wants to use to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, the rods are dangerous if not properly stored.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said the plan to get rid of the water is sound and meets global standards. Dumping treated water into the sea is completely normal for a nuclear power plant, even in non-emergency situations.
Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that it’s a lose-lose situation, with Kishi reporting that he said, “It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air.”
The sentiment that the headlines would hurt local industries is likely right because even to this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture, despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to live in the area.