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Garuda 737 MAX
An artist’s conception shows a Garuda Airlines 737 MAX jet in flight. (Boeing Illustration)

Indonesia’s national airline, Garuda Indonesia, is saying it wants to cancel an order for 49 Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, citing the effect of two catastrophic crashes on passenger confidence.

The order, announced in 2014, has a list-price value of roughly $6 billion. Only one of the 50 MAX jets ordered back then has been delivered to date.

In interviews with media outlets including Reuters, The Associated Press, The Washington Post, CNN, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, Garuda officials cited consumers’ low confidence in the 737 MAX in the wake of crashes that killed 189 people in Indonesia last October, and 157 people in Ethiopia this month.

“Many passengers told us they were afraid to get on a MAX 8,” Reuters quoted Garuda CEO Aria Askhara as saying.

Garuda’s request hints at the economic impact that the crashes could have going forward. Boeing’s 737 MAX jets have been grounded worldwide as the crash investigations continue.

Preliminary data suggest that an automatic flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS played a role in both crashes. Boeing added the MCAS to the 737 MAX line as a safeguard against stalls, but spurious data from a single sensor that monitors air flow may have forced each plane into a dive.

Reports relating to cockpit conversations suggest that the pilots on both flights struggled to counter the dives, but apparently didn’t follow a specified procedure for turning off the MCAS system. One of the controversies surrounding the 737 MAX focuses on whether pilots were adequately trained about the MCAS and what to do if it malfunctioned.

Another controversy has to do with indicators that Boeing can install on the plane to tell pilots that the suspect sensor system is providing mismatched data. The New York Times reported that the indicators have been provided only as an option for an additional charge.

Boeing says it’s preparing to release a software upgrade aimed at addressing concerns about the MCAS system and the angle-of-attack sensors, and will change its pilot training program for the 737 MAX as well.

The Transportation Department says it will investigate the process by which the Federal Aviation Administration certified the 737 MAX for flight, and the FBI and Justice Department are reportedly conducting a separate criminal investigation into the certification process. The Senate’s Aviation and Space Subcommittee is planning a hearing on airline safety next week.

As of the end of February, Boeing had 5,012 orders for the 737 MAX, with 376 of those planes delivered. Deliveries have now been suspended along with 737 MAX flights. Boeing says the 737 assembly lines at its plant in Renton, Wash., will be halted for three days to “focus on completing work that was previously delayed.”

Garuda’s request could be seen as the first publicly confirmed request for an order cancellation to be sparked by the crash controversies. However, analysts told Reuters that even before this month’s Ethiopian Airlines crash, Garuda was considering a shift in its airplane procurement plan.

“We don’t want to use MAX jets … but maybe will consider switching it with another Boeing model of plane,” Garuda spokesman Ikhsan Rosan told AP.

Boeing has declined to comment on Garuda’s cancellation request, but the airline says Boeing representatives are due to visit Jakarta next week for further talks.

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