|A grounded American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 is towed to another location at Miami International Airport on March 13 in Miami, Florida. AFP|
|A screen shows stock pricing information for the Boeing company at the end of the of the trading day at the New York Stock Exchange in New York, U.S., March 13. The United States joined most of the rest of the world on the same afternoon in grounding all Boeing 737 Max 8 planes following two separate crashes involving the model that have raised safety questions. EPA|
By Jung Min-ho
Korean Air, the country's largest airline, will suspend introducing Boeing 737 Max 8 jets until "safety is guaranteed."
The company said Thursday that it canceled its plan to introduce the aircraft in May after one of the model crashed in Ethiopia on March 10 ― only six months after a deadly crash involving the identical model in Indonesia.
Korean Air, which contracted to buy 50 of the model (20 optional) over the next seven years, initially planned to bring in six Boeing 737 Max 8 planes this year.
"Customers' safety is our priority and we will make sure to maintain it," the company said in a statement. "We are paying close attention to the situation in regard to our purchase plan."
The decision came after U.S. President Donald Trump issued an emergency order to ground all Boeing 737 Max 8 planes in the country over growing safety concerns.
Boeing, one of the largest U.S. exporters, said it still had "full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max."
CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement, "We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution. Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes; and it always will be.
"We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again."
Boeing's global reputation and future are at stake. Airlines around the world are cautiously watching Boeing's and governments' investigations into the Ethiopia disaster.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport's data, Korean airlines plan to purchase 114 Boeing 737 Max 8 planes by 2027. Jeju Air contracted to buy 56, followed by Korean Air (30), Eastar Jet (18) and T'way Air (10).
Eastar Jet, Korea's only airline that operates the model, had already suspended operations of its two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes on March 13. The ministry is conducting its own inspections of the planes.
Other domestic airlines may follow Korean Air in reviewing their Max purchase plans.
Malaysia's Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali reportedly said the nation's sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah, would have to "revisit" the agreement to buy the jets for Malaysia Airlines.
"The management of Khazanah should look into the matter urgently," Ali said. "This is to ensure the safety of the airline, which is paramount."
Boeing has already been hit hard financially. The cost of grounding all 737 Max planes could be between $1 billion and $5 billion, according to estimates from Wall Street firms Melius Research and Jefferies.
The crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi killed all 157 people on board. Last October, a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max went down over the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board.
Although there is no evidence that the two disasters are linked, similarities ― both jets were almost brand new and went down soon after take-off ― have prompted concerns around the world.