China plane crash ‘without precedent’ given good safety results: Analyst

That a plane like China Easter’s Boeing 737-800 crashes in the middle of the flight is “simply unprecedented,” said an aviation analyst, citing the plane’s excellent safety record.

“Air travel is the safest form of transportation. But when we are exposed to incidents or accidents, we do not see anything like what we have seen in China over the last 24 hours,” Alex Macheras, an independent aviation analyst, told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Tuesday.

“This nose dive was simply unprecedented, especially from cross-altitude. We are talking about the safest phase of the flight. That is why these answers will be needed as soon as possible to determine,” he added.

No bodies or survivors have yet been found since the crash Tuesday morning, Chinese state media reported.

The domestic plane carried 132 people as it dived into the southern region of Guangxi on Monday afternoon.

The plane was crisscrossed at 29,100 feet and began a sharp descent after 6 p.m. 14.20, and briefly recovered more than 1,000 feet – and then continued to dive again before losing contact. It fell more than 25,000 feet in about two minutes.

The 737-800 that crashed Monday in China flew for the first time in June 2015. It was not a Boeing 737 Max, the plane that was put on the ground worldwide after two fatal accidents in 2018 and 2019. China was one of the first countries to put 737 Max on ground. after the second of two fatalities in 2018 and 2019.

The aircraft’s safety record

“The plane involved was a six-year-old, so a very young 737-800, who has an amazing safety record all over the globe,” Macheras said.

“We are talking about an aircraft that makes up the entire fleet of the European low-cost airline Ryanair. An airline that is in service with American Airlines, Qantas, FlyDubai, Ethiopian, KLM,” he added, saying the aircraft is used to perform under very difficult conditions.

According to travel analysis firm Cirium, there are more than 4,200 Boeing 737-800s in operation worldwide, and 1,177 of them are in the fleets of Chinese airlines.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered an investigation and rescue team to the site of the crash in the rural, mountainous region.

Sheila Kahyaoglu, aerospace and defense analyst at Jefferies, said the aircraft’s safety record makes it highly likely that something unusual happened during the flight.

“Given the safety record for this aircraft, and the fact that it only had nine fatalities in 25 years, I strongly doubt it’s a manufacturer’s problem,” she told CNBC on Tuesday.

“Obviously, it is too early to think about it or to draw that conclusion,” she acknowledged, indicating that something “abnormal may have happened” as the plane has had a good safety record so far.

Search for ‘the black box’

Since the plane was a U.S.-made aircraft, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it has appointed an investigator for the crash.

Investigators will work to recover so-called black boxes that contain voice recordings in the cockpit and flight data. They are also likely to examine the aircraft’s past flights, maintenance history, weather data and pilot health.

Macheras said it is the black box that will ultimately “push investigators in the right direction in that search for answers.”

“As the nature of the crash remains completely unexplained, what role the plane played will be the question on so many regulators” [minds] worldwide, “he said.” There’s always that risk, and that’s why investigators want to rule out what they can. But as we say, the black box is what is going to have the greatest effect. “

– CNBC’s Evelyn Cheng and Leslie Josephs contributed to this report.

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