In another hit to Boeing's reputation, the U.S. on Wednesday joined the rest of the world in grounding the 737 MAX 8, the company's prized jet that is now barred from skies worldwide.
Is the company seriously hobbled? The answer depends on whether investigators can determine a definitive cause behind the crash in Ethiopia on Sunday that claimed 157 lives, as well as another crash that preceded it in October, and if Boeing can come up with a remedy to address both, experts say.
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The U.S. had been the last holdout, with the Federal Aviation Administration saying that it stood by the aircraft's safety. But President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that an emergency order would be issued banning flights by not only the MAX 8, involved in the two recent crashes but also the slightly larger 737 MAX 9. Flights currently in the air were to be ordered to land as soon as possible.
It's the second crash of a 737 MAX 8 in less than five months. A Lion Air flight went down in Indonesia in October killing 189 people.
“Certainly there is near-term damage to both Boeing’s reputation and its business,'' said Jim Corridore, director of industrials equity research at CFRA Research. "But how long lasting and how deep this impact is depends on the outcome of the investigation and how Boeing reacts.''
After falling as much as 3 percent during the day, Boeing's stock price edged up 0.5 percent to end at $377.14 on Wednesday. So far this year, shares have risen over 17 percent.
On Wednesday, travel search site Kayak announced that, in the wake of the crash in Ethiopia, it will enable fliers to filter out aircraft they do not want to fly starting this week.
"We've recently received feedback to make Kayak's filters more granular in order to exclude particular aircraft models from search queries,'' Kayak's chief technology officer Giorgos Zacharia said in an emailed statement. "We are releasing that enhancement globally later this week and are committed to providing our customers with all the information they need to travel with confidence.''
Boeing has been working on the automated anti-stall system that is believed to have caused the Indonesian accident, but the inquiry into what led a second 737 MAX 8 to nosedive on Sunday in Ethiopia is just beginning.
"This conceivably could go on for weeks,’’ Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with the Teal Group, said of the investigation, However, he believes that a company that made billions in revenue last year will ultimately be able to find a fix and recover from this crisis.
Though the deaths in the plane crash are a "tragedy,'' he said, “I just don‘t think it’s that serious a problem from a company health standpoint. The worst-case scenario is in the hundreds of millions'' in monetary losses.
He added that “the fundamental layout of the plane has been around for half a century... They’ll find a solution in pretty quick order, if indeed there’s anything about this crash that has anything to with the plane. We just don’t know.’’
Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Atmosphere Research Group agreed that Boeing could bounce back, but it has to move fast.
"If they find the cause (or causes) of the 737 MAX's problems, so swiftly, and develop a suitable set of solutions, then Boeing should be fine,'' he said. "Boeing has no time to waste, though. At this point, it is possible some airlines may be considering scaling back their 737 MAX orders, and airlines that have not yet placed orders need to be convinced the MAX is safe or they will buy from Airbus."
Shortly before the U.S. made its move, Canada grounded the 737 MAX, banning the aircraft from flying through its airspace on Wednesday. It joined countries and regions around the world, including the European Union, United Kingdom, Indonesia and China, that had already taken similar actions.
Until Wednesday afternoon, two U.S. carriers, American and Southwest, were the only airlines in the world continuing to fly the MAX 8, while United flies the MAX 9.
Southwest operates 34 MAX 8 jets in its fleet of over 750 Boeing 737s.
American flies 24 MAX 8 jets, and said Tuesday that it was waiting on the delivery of 16 more this year. Another 20 should be delivered in 2020 and 2021, and 40 are slated to join its fleet in 2024 "and beyond.''
United has 14 737 MAX 9 jets.
While the 737 has been around for decades, it's MAX is a newcomer on the aviation scene. Only 350 of the planes in its different variations are in service right now, but more than 4,660 are in the pipeline as it has become Boeing's most coveted jet.
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“I would say it's the single most important product that Boeing has right now,'' Corridore said. "It's the largest portion of what’s in Boeing's backlog and on its production schedule . . . Nobody's ordering 737s anymore. It's all 737 Max 7, 8 or 9.''
Boeing has rebounded from a crisis before. Its long-awaited Dreamliner, the first commercial jet to be primarily made of lightweight carbon composites instead of aluminum and steel, was grounded in January 2013 after a battery caught fire on one jet, and a smoldering battery forced an emergency landing of another.
But Boeing "found a way to fix the problem and the 787 Dreamliner has continued to fly without incident,'' Harteveldt said.
Still, U.S. lawmakers such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., had remained concerned about the 737 MAX 8 and had called on U.S. regulators to halt its flights like other nations around the world.
Records show that federal aviation authorities got at least 11 reports regarding apparent safety problems with the MAX 8 that were logged between April 2018 and December 2018.
Two pilots reported their planes unexpectedly pitched nose down after engaging autopilot following the jets taking off. Another pilot said the plane's automation triggered a “temporary level off.”
Fitch Ratings said in a note that it wasn't ready to downgrade Boeing yet.
"Groundings and delivery delays would likely need to last beyond several months for the company's rating to be affected,'' the company wrote.
But "the MAX is a key program for Boeing,'' the note continued, estimating that the roughly 590 MAX jets it estimates to be delivered this year are valued at between $27 billion and $30 billion in revenue.
If the cause of the Ethiopian crash is determined, even preliminarily to being similar to what brought down the jet in Indonesia, that could indicate a flawed design, and Fitch would keep on top of the amount of time and resources that would be needed to find a fix.
"We will also watch for the effects on the flying public's sentiment toward the MAX.'' Fitch said. "Reputational damage could also be substantial, although Boeing has weathered previous crash episodes.''
Contributing: Ben Mutzabaugh, Gus Garcia-Roberts, Steve Reilly, Alison Young
Follow USA TODAY reporter Charisse Jones on Twitter @charissejones
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Damage to Boeing's reputation hinges on outcome of 737 MAX 8 probe after groundings