- US under pressure to ground Boeing 737 Max planes after Ethiopia crash
- US regulators increasingly isolated in maintaining plane is safe as EU countries halt flights
- A visual guide to what we know so far
Boeing and the US aviation authorities were under increasing pressure to ground the 737 Max on Tuesday as the European Union and numerous other countries halted flights and Donald Trump weighed in following a second fatal crash involving the plane in less than five months.
US regulators, airlines and the manufacturer have become increasingly isolated in maintaining that the plane is safe. On Tuesday, Boeing reiterated its confidence in the 737 Max saying it had “full confidence” in its safety.
But the global reaction to Sunday’s fatal crash involving an Ethiopian Airline’s 737 Max is adding pressure on the company and the Federal Aviation Administration to act.
At least 27 airlines have grounded the Max and more than half of the 350 aircraft in service have now been pulled from use
Trump said on Tuesday that modern planes were “becoming far too complex to fly”
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants called on American Airlines to ground its 737 Max fleet pending further investigation.
The EU’s aviation safety agency, Easa, suspended all flights by Boeing’s 737-8 and 737-9 models after the UK, Ireland, Germany, France and other countries made similar moves.
Explaining the UK’s decision to ban the planes, a spokesman for the British civil aviation authority said: “As we do not currently have sufficient information from the flight data recorder [black box] we have, as a precautionary measure, issued instructions to stop any commercial passenger flights from any operator arriving, departing or overflying UK airspace.”
The British pilots’ union, Balpa, welcomed the decision, saying: “Safety must come first.”
In a statement, Boeing said: “We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets. We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets.”
Boeing plans to update the Max’s software and change flight controls and training guidelines.
There are five 737 Max aircraft registered and operational in the UK, all belonging to TUI. Norwegian has also grounded all its 18 737 Max 8 planes, registered across Europe, including several which it uses to operate transatlantic flights from Edinburgh and Ireland to the US.
Turkish Airlines also operates 737 Max 8 planes. Two of its flights bound for Britain appear to have been forced to turn back to Istanbul in midair, according to FlightRadar24 .
TUI, the world’s largest travel and tourism company, said it would discontinue using the 737 Max across all six airlines in its group.
Earlier on Tuesday, Australia and Singapore suspended operations of all Boeing 737 Max aircraft in and out of their airports, after Indonesia and China grounded their fleets of the Boeing 737 Max 8. Oman and South Korea have also followed suit.
Nearly 40% of the in-service fleet of 371 Boeing 737 Max jets globally have been grounded, according to the industry publication Flightglobal, including 97 jets in the biggest market, China.
An Ethiopian Airlines passenger jet plunged to the ground shortly after takeoff on Sunday, killing all 157 people
The same model was involved in the Lion Air crash off Indonesia that killed 189 people in October. No evidence has emerged to link the two incidents, but in both cases pilots reported problems with the plane and requested permission to make an emergency landing before losing contact with ground control.
The plane’s black box recorders, containing flight data and cockpit voice recordings, have been recovered and could potentially provide some indication of the causes within days, depending on their condition.
The scare has wiped billions of dollars off the market value of the world’s biggest plane-maker.
The manufacturer’s stock fell further on Tuesday as international regulators moved against the 737 Max, and is unlikely to have been boosted by Trump’s intervention on Twitter.
The president said manufacturers were “always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better. Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost yet very little gain.”
He added: “I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!”
Following his tweet, Trump met with Boeing’s chief executive, Dennis Muilenburg, in the first known conversation between them since the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash.
Airlines using the Max 8 have been inundated with questions from concerned passengers since Sunday’s crash, many demanding to know which type of aircraft they will be taking – and their right to cancel based on that.
“It’s not 100% clear, but if you were at the airport and there were other flights not on a Max, a customer is likely to be accommodated asking to switch to another flight even though it’s not clearly provided for in published rules,” said John Cox, founder and chief executive of Safety Operating Systems.
Association of Professional Flight Attendants president Lori Bassani said the Max should be grounded. “The safety of our crews and passengers is paramount. Our flight attendants will not be forced to fly if they feel unsafe,” she said.
On Monday, the FAA noted that external reports were drawing similarities between the crashes in Ethiopia and off Indonesia. It said the Boeing 737 Max 8 was airworthy but that it had demanded design changes to the aircraft by April.
The US transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, said regulators would not hesitate to act if they found a safety issue. Boeing’s top executive told employees on Monday he was confident in the safety of the 737 Max, its top-selling aircraft.
Industry analysts said some disruption was inevitable from airlines grounding their 737 Max 8s, even though most of those who have done so have a small number of the planes in operation compared with their overall fleet size.
The aviation consultant John Strickland said cancellations were likely, adding that while there could be more planes on standby in quieter midweek or off-season periods, an ongoing grounding would cause headaches for airlines awaiting deliveries of 737 Max planes from Boeing: “Ryanair, for example, is expecting 50 in the next few months.”
Some airlines using the 737 Max, including American Airlines and Southwest, have also expressed their confidence in the plane’s airworthiness.
“We have full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members, who are the best and most experienced in the industry,” American Airlines said in a statement. The airline added it would continue to monitor the investigation into the crash.
Reuters contributed to this report