The Boeing 737-800 that went down in Niete, Southern Cameroon yesterday with 106 passengers and eight crew members and a flight engineer on board was one of three such aircraft belonging to Kenya Airways that operates more transcontinental flights than any other African airline.
Flight 507 originated from Ivory Coast and its intended destination was Nairobi with a stopover in Cameroon to pick up additional passengers before crashing 200 kilometers from Douala.
In 2004 Kenya Airways announced the phasing out of Boeing 737-200 fleet, and replacement with New Generation Boeing 737-800. All the three 737-800s with capacity to carry 129 passengers and 16 crew were delivered from Singapore Aircraft Leasing Enterprise.
With an average fleet age of 9.8 years, Kenya Airways is among world air careers with the most modern planes and boasts of an impeccable safety record with Flight 507 being only the second major accident suffered by the airliner since Flight 431; an Airbus 310-300 crashed in Abidjan in 2001.
Before yesterday’s tragedy, only one other Boeing 737-800 belonging to Gol Transportes Aeroes of Brazil had crashed killing all 154 on board.
In an incident that occurred on September 29 last year, the ill fated aircraft was involved in a midair collision with an Embraer Legacy 600 military jet. Amazingly, the military Legacy landed safely at a Brazilian Air Force Base.
Boeing’s Next Generation 737-800 is among the largest member of the strong selling 737 family. Unlike the other Next Generation 737s, the 767-800 introduce new fuselage lengths, extending 737 single class seating range out to 189, compared with 100 in the original 737-100.
Until its launch on September 5, 1994 the 737-800 was known as the 737-400X Stretch. Compared with the 737-400, the 737-800 is 3.02m (9ft 9in) longer, taking typical two class seating from 146 to 162, while range is significantly increased.
The 737-800 has sold strongly since its launch, and early 2002 was the highest selling Next Generation Boeing model. Its maiden flight was on July 31 1997, first delivery (to Hapag Lloyd) was in April 1998.
By the end of that year, 1,028 737-800s had been ordered with 664 delivered by October 2002.
The 737 design enhancements allow operators to fly increased payload in and out of airports with runways less than 5,000 feet long.
The design enhancements include a two-position tail skid that enables reduced approach speeds, sealed leading-edge slats that provide increased lift during takeoff, and increased flight spoiler deflection on the ground that improves takeoff and landing performance.
The enhancements increase payload capability for landing up to 3,628 kilograms on the 737-800. They also increase payload capability for takeoff up to 908 kilograms on the 737-800 in relation to its predecessors.
The short-field performance changes were developed starting in 2004. The flight-test program was conducted on a new 737-800 and began when the airplane made its first flight on January 24 last year.
The Next-Generation 737s including the 800 are 10 years newer and fly higher, faster and farther than competing models. The 737 is now so widely used that at any given time, there are over 1,250 airborne worldwide. On average, one takes off or lands every five seconds.
By the end of March 2007 a total of 6,866 737s had been ordered and 5351 delivered worldwide.