It’s too early to speculate what caused Lion Air flight JT610 to crash this morning, shortly after departing from Jakarta, with 189 people on board. But one thing we know is that the aircraft that went down has a lot of the industry’s hopes pinned to it.
This Boeing 737 Max 8 had only been in operation for two months, but today marks the first time this relatively new aircraft type has been involved in a crash. The Indonesian domestic low-cost carrier Lion Air has been one of the aircraft’s biggest customers, while Boeing has taken 4,783 orders for the aircraft across the world. Of those orders, 219 were delivered by the end of September, per Reuters.
As the Telegraph noted recently, the aircraft has been “widely billed as the short-haul plane of the future, while Ryanair has branded it a ‘game changer.” That’s largely because it takes the workhorse mentality of the existing 737—a single-aisle aircraft that primarily services short-haul flights and is used exclusively by airlines like Southwest and Ryanair—and adds fuel efficiency as well as a seat capacity of up to 210, depending on the carrier’s configuration.
Some airlines, like Norwegian Air, are even flying them across the Atlantic, marking a return to single aisle aircraft on mid- and long-haul routes—a boon for carriers that want to jump on the low-cost long-haul trend.
Of course, there is no evidence to suggest that the aircraft type had anything to do with today’s crash, and officials are eager to get their hands on the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder to help determine the cause. Boeing’s safety record is industry-leading and the manufacturer released a statement saying it was ready to work with Indonesian authorities on the investigation.
Unfortunately, as Quartz pointed out, the same cannot be said of the Indonesian aviation industry, which until recently was banned from flying into the EU and US on safety concerns. Lion Air’s CEO said a technical issue had been reported on the aircraft yesterday, but it had been cleared to fly today.