US FAA won’t ground 737 MAX planes

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Rescuers work beside the wreckage of the Ethiopian Airlines’ aircraft at the crash site, some 50 km east of Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on Sunday. Xinhua

WASHINGTON/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The US aviation regulator said on Tuesday it would not ground Boeing Co 737 MAX planes after a crash in Ethiopia that killed 157 people, bucking a trend of countries around the world that have suspended the aircraft’s operations.

US and Ethiopian aviation safety officials discussed on Tuesday whether the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, which crashed on Sunday on a flight to Nairobi, would go to Washington or London for download and analysis.

US officials said the devices suffered some damage but they were confident of some initial results within 24 hours of the data being downloaded.

US carriers are eager to see the results as a growing number of countries and carriers are grounding the planes. There were 371 of the 737 MAX family jets in operation before this week’s groundings and about two thirds of the fleet is now grounded, based on Reuters calculations.

It is not clear if a final decision on where the recorders would go for analysis has been made. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) declined to comment.

The FAA’s acting administrator, Dan Elwell, said its review had shown “no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft”.

US President Donald Trump spoke to Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg and got assurances the aircraft was safe and did not need to be grounded, two people briefed on the call said.

The European Union’s aviation safety regulator suspended all flights in the bloc by the 737 MAX and a US senator who chairs a panel overseeing aviation suggested the United States take similar action following Sunday’s crash, the second since October involving that type of plane.

But Mr Elwell said no foreign civil aviation authorities had provided data that would warrant action. If any safety issues were identified during an urgent review of the Ethiopian Airlines crash, the FAA would “take immediate and appropriate action,” he said.

Britain, Germany and France joined a wave of suspensions of the aircraft following the crash, piling pressure on the United States to follow suit.

Boeing, the world’s biggest planemaker said it understood the actions but retained “full confidence” in the 737 MAX and had safety as its priority.

The three US airlines using the 737 MAX – Southwest Airlines Co, American Airlines Group Inc and United Airlines – stood by the aircraft, although many potential passengers took to social media to express concerns, asking if they could change flights or cancel.

In an unusual decision, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said it was suspending all flights in the bloc by the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 jets.

Flight ET 302 came down in a field soon after takeoff from Addis Ababa, creating a fireball in a crater. It may take weeks or months to identify all the victims, who include a prize-winning author, a soccer official and a team of humanitarian workers.

Of the top 10 countries by air passenger travel, all but the United States and Japan have halted flights of the 737 MAX. China, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, India and others have temporarily suspended the plane.

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