By Elsie Chen
New York Times News Service
BEIJING — Boeing is facing compensation claims from the three biggest airlines in China, which have grounded dozens of 737 Max jetliners since the deadly crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight in March.
The airlines, Air China, China Eastern and China Southern, which are all state controlled, said Wednesday they had asked for payouts, confirming reports in state-run news media. Xiamen Airlines, a smaller carrier, also said it would seek compensation.
The four airlines accounted for about half of China’s fleet of nearly 100 737 Max 8 jetliners in service when Chinese regulators grounded the plane less than a day after the March crash. The move was quickly followed by regulators around the world, underscoring China’s growing influence in aviation safety.
At a daily news briefing Tuesday, Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, did not comment directly on the compensation claims, but said it was “beyond reproach” that airlines would work to “protect their legitimate rights and interests in accordance with the law.”
Other airlines have already said they will ask Boeing for compensation for losses resulting from the groundings, including carriers in India, Norway and Poland. It is unclear how much the grounding will cost Boeing. Analysts have pegged the potential price at more than $100 million per month.
The 737 Max, which has been Boeing’s best-selling plane, was grounded this year after it was involved in a deadly crash for the second time in five months.
In October, Lion Air Flight 610 plunged into the Java Sea off Indonesia shortly after takeoff, killing all 189 onboard. In March, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed into the ground a few minutes after departing Addis Ababa, resulting in the deaths of all 157 on board.
The 737 Max remains grounded as Boeing works on a software fix for a flight control system that is suspected of contributing to both crashes. Some airlines have even announced that they will cancel their 737 Max orders over concerns about the plane’s safety.