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UK bans jets after Ethiopian Airlines crash

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A Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed in Ethiopia killing everyone on board. The crash of the Ethiopian Airlines plane marks the second deadliest accident involving a Boeing 737 in the past five months. So is there a problem with this particular model?
USA TODAY

The United Kingdom on Tuesday banned airlines from flying Boeing 737 Max 8 planes into or out of its airports as global pressure mounted to halt flights of the U.S. aircraft giant’s hottest-selling model.

A team of U.S. aviation experts arrived in Ethiopia and began collecting data aimed at solving the mystery of the Ethiopian Airlines jet that crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa two days ago, killing all 157 aboard.

The MAX 8, just 4 months old and six minutes into its flight to Nairobi on Sunday when it nosedived into a field, has become a critical focus of the investigation. 

The first Max 8s made their debut two years ago. U.S. carriers operate 74 of them and 387 fly worldwide. Now, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia are among nations that have temporarily grounded the planes, and Norwegian Air Shuttle on Tuesday joined more than two dozen airlines parking their Max 8s.

The United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority said Tuesday that it did not have sufficient information about the crash. 

“We have, as a precautionary measure, issued instructions to stop any commercial passenger flights from any operator arriving, departing or overflying UK airspace,” the authority said in a statement.

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There has been pushback in the U.S. as well. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called on the FAA to ground the planes “out of an abundance of caution for the flying public” until safety can be assured. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also called for the FAA to ground the MAX 8.

The FAA, however, on Tuesday stood by its earlier determination of “continued airworthiness” for the Boeing 737 MAX fleet, Marcia Alexander-Adams, an agency spokeswoman, said in an email.

The tragedy comes less than five months after a Lion Air plane of the same model crashed into the Java Sea – 12 minutes after departing from the airport in Jakarta, Indonesia. None of the 189 passengers and crew survived.

“External reports are drawing similarities between this accident and the Lion Air Flight 610 accident,” the FAA said. “However, this investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions.”

The agency said, however, that it expects to require Boeing to complete Max 8 flight control system enhancements – prompted by the Lion Air crash – by month’s end.

The FAA said it was providing technical support to the Ethiopian Accident Investigation Bureau. Boeing said it was also aiding the investigation.

The plane was delivered to the airline in November, had flown only 1,200 hours and had undergone a “rigorous” maintenance check Feb. 4. The pilot, who had more than 8,000 hours of flight experience, had issued a distress call and was attempting to return to the airport.

The “black box” voice and data recorders had been found, raising hopes that investigators soon learn more details of the crash.

More: 3 questions don’t have answers following Boeing MAX 8 crash

The stakes for Boeing are high: Airlines have ordered 4,661 more of the planes — the newest version of the 737 and best-selling airliner ever. 

Southwest and American fly the plane and both expressed confidence in their fleets. Southwest, which has 34 of the planes and is adding more, said on Twitter that the airline had flown 31,000 flights on 737 MAX planes and plans on “operating those aircraft going forward.”

More: Boeing 737 Max: What you should know if you’re booked on a flight

Jim Hall, who headed the National Transportation Safety Board from 1994 to 2001, noted that with thousands of the jets are on order, it’s vital to find out what went wrong before too many of them are in the sky. He said the planes should be grounded.

“If there’s anything systemic or related to the computer operations of the aircraft, it can be addressed,” Hall told USA TODAY. “That’s the prudent thing to do.”

Contributing: Bart Jansen and Kristin Lam

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