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?
Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands on Tuesday closed their airspace to Boeing 737 Max 8 planes as global pressure mounted to halt flights of the U.S. aircraft giant’s hottest-selling model.
The announcement came as a team of U.S. aviation experts joined the arduous task of data collection at the site of the Ethiopian Airlines jet crash that killed all 157 aboard two days ago.
The MAX 8 was just 4 months old and six minutes into a Nairobi-bound flight from Addis Ababa on Sunday when it nosedived into a field. The crash occurred 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.
China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Oman and Australia are among nations that also have temporarily grounded the planes. Turkish Airlines, Polish carrier LOT and Norwegian Air Shuttle on Tuesday joined more than two dozen airlines parking their Max 8s.
The United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority said 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. Transport Workers Union Local 556 represents flight attendants on Southwest Airlines, which flies 34 of the planes. TWU issued a statement saying the planes should be grounded pending further investigation. “People must always be put over profits,” TWU tweeted.
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. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also called for the FAA to ground the MAX 8.
The first Max 8s made their debut two years ago. U.S. carriers operate 74 of them and 387 fly worldwide. Boeing, in a statement Tuesday, restated its “full confidence in the safety of the MAX” and noted that the FAA has not mandated grounding the planes.
The FAA on Tuesday stood by its earlier determination of “continued airworthiness” for the Boeing 737 MAX fleet.
“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. Airline CEO Tewolde GebreMariam told CNN the pilots told air traffic control they were having “flight control problems” before the 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.”
President Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter but took no position on grounding the planes. Trump said planes have become so complex that “computer scientists from MIT” are required to fly them.
“Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger,” Trump 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!”
Contributing: Bart Jansen and Tom Vanden Brook
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