13 Mar 2019

Boeing: UK joins wave of countries grounding the 737 Max

8:46 am on 13 March 2019

The European Union and India have banned the Boeing 737 Max from flying over their airspace to ensure passenger safety.

(File photo) A Boeing 737 Max 8 destined for Air China, delivered to Zhejiang province in December 2018.

(File photo) A Boeing 737 Max 8 destined for Air China, delivered to Zhejiang province in December 2018. Photo: AFP

They join a long list of countries in suspending the plane, including the UK.

The decision comes after an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed on Sunday, killing 157 people on board. It was the second fatal accident involving the 737 Max 8 model in less than five months.

Countries including China, France and Germany have also grounded the jets, and operations of the planes were suspended in Australia yesterday.

US officials say the aircraft are still safe to fly.

However, the US Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union is now calling for the Federal Aviation Administration "to temporarily ground the 737 Max fleet in the US out of an abundance of caution".

India's Ministry of Civil Aviation announced that it would ground the Boeing 737-Max planes "immediately".

"These planes will be grounded till appropriate modifications and safety measures are undertaken to ensure their safe operations," the ministry said.

It following a similar decision by the EU Aviation Safety Agency which said it is suspending the aircraft "as a precautionary measure".

Earlier today, the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it was banning the plane, joining other countries including China.

Investigators have recovered the flight recorders from the Ethiopian Airlines plane and are currently examining the data to determine what caused the crash.

"The accident investigation is currently ongoing, and it is too early to draw any conclusions as to the cause of the accident," said the EU Aviation Safety Agency.

The CAA said the directive would remain in place until further notice.

It said it took the decision because it did not currently have "sufficient information" from the flight data recorder about the fatal crash.

Tui Airways and Norwegian both operate the Boeing Max 8 in the UK as part of their fleets.

One Turkish Airlines flight to Birmingham turned around and returned to Istanbul. And a Norwegian Air plane from Stockholm to Tel Aviv turned back over Romania.

A Tui statement confirmed their 737 Max 8 aircraft were grounded.

"Any customers due to fly home today on a 737 Max 8 from their holiday will be flown back on another aircraft," it read.

"Customers due to travel in the coming days will also travel on holiday as planned on other aircraft."

Norwegian said it had also suspended flights of the aircraft and apologised for the inconvenience to passengers.

American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8, on a flight from Miami to New York City, lands at LaGuardia Airport on Monday morning, March 11, 2019

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines continue to fly their 737 Max 8s in the US. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

Which other countries are affected?

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has declared the 737 Max 8 airworthy.

But the largest operator of 737 Max 8s in America, Southwest Airlines, is offering passengers scheduled to fly on one of the Boeing planes the chance to change their bookings.

Rival American Airlines said its "standard policies for changes still apply".

Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is running to be the Democrats' presidential candidate, called on the FAA "to get these planes out of the sky."

Boeing has confirmed that for the past few months it has been developing a "flight control software enhancement" for the aircraft, but says it is confident they are safe to fly.

More than $US27bn has been wiped off the company's market value since the close of trading on Friday.

Yesterday Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) suspended operations of the jets in Australia. Fiji Airways was the only airline flying the Max 8 into the country after Singapore's Silk Air grounded its fleet yesterday.

The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand said it was not planning to restrict the operation of Max 8 aircraft into the country.

Fiji Airways has two Max 8s and is the only airline flying the planes into New Zealand.

The NZ civil aviation authority said it was satisfied with the steps taken to ensure the safety of their operation.

In the aftermath of the accident, Ethiopia, Singapore, China, France, Ireland, Germany, Indonesia and Malaysia have also suspended the 737 Max.

Singapore's Changi Airport is the world's sixth busiest and a major hub connecting Asia to Europe and the US, but only a handful of airlines operate the Max 8 aircraft in and out of the country.

The Boeing 737 Max aircraft

The Boeing 737 Max fleet of aircraft are the latest in the company's successful 737 line. The group includes the Max 7, 8, 9 and 10 models.

By the end of January, Boeing had delivered 350 of the Max 8 model out of 5,011 orders. A small number of Max 9s are also operating.

The Max 7 and 10 models, not yet delivered, are due for roll-out in the next few years.

The Max 8 that crashed on Sunday was one of 30 ordered as part of Ethiopian Airlines' expansion. It underwent a "rigorous first check maintenance" on 4 February, the airline said.

Following last October's Lion Air crash in Indonesia, investigators said the pilots had appeared to struggle with an automated system designed to keep the plane from stalling, a new feature of the jet.

It is not yet clear whether the anti-stall system was the cause of Sunday's crash. Aviation experts say other technical issues or human error cannot be discounted.

Eyewitnesses say they saw a trail of smoke, sparks and debris as the plane nosedived.


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