Boeing and US under pressure to ground 737 Max
US regulators increasingly isolated in maintaining plane is safe as EU countries halt flights
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.
The US Federal Aviation Administration continues to review extensively all available data and aggregate safety performance from operators and pilots of the Boing 737 MAX. Thus far, our review shows no systematic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft. Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action, the acting FAA administrator, Daniel K Elwell, said on Tuesday.
Boeing, meanwhile, reiterated its support for the 737 Max, saying it had full confidence in its safety.
At least 27 airlines have grounded the Max and more than half of the 350 aircraft in service have been withdrawn from use.
Pilots of at least two US flights have complained that their new Boeing jet pointed its nose down automatically.
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 EUs aviation safety agency, EASA, suspended all flights by Boeings 737-8 and 737-9 models after the UK, Ireland, Germany, France and other countries made similar moves.
Explaining the UKs 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 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.
Boeing said: We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets. Well continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets.
Boeing plans to update the Maxs 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 worlds largest travel and tourism company, said it would stop 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 Max 8. Oman and South Korea have also followed suit.
Nearly 40% of the in-service fleet of 371 Max jets globally have been grounded, according to the industry publication Flightglobal, including 97 jets in the biggest market, China.
In the US, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines operate the Max 8, and United Airlines flies a slightly larger version, the Max 9. All three carriers vouched for the safety of Max aircraft on Wednesday.
Two US airline pilots filed voluntary safety reports last year to a database compiled by Nasa, saying an automated system seemed to cause their 737 Max planes to tilt down suddenly.
The pilots said that soon after engaging the autopilot on Max 8 planes, the nose tilted down sharply. In both cases, they recovered quickly after disconnecting the autopilot.
The problem did not appear related to the automated anti-stall system that is suspected of contributing to a deadly October crash in Indonesia.
The voluntary safety reports do not publicly reveal the names of pilots, the airlines or the location of the incidents. It was also unclear whether the accounts led to any actions by the FAA or the pilots airlines.
An Ethiopian Airlines passenger jet plunged to the ground shortly after takeoff on Sunday, killing all 157 people onboard. 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 planes 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 worlds biggest plane-maker.
Boeings stock fell further on Tuesday as international regulators moved against the 737 Max, and is unlikely to have been boosted by Trumps 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 dont 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 Boeings 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 Sundays crash, many demanding to know which type of aircraft they will be taking and their right to cancel based on that.
Its 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 its not clearly provided for in published rules, said John Cox, the founder and chief executive of Safety Operating Systems.
The 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. Boeings 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.
Reuters contributed to this report