FAA sees no basis to ground B-737 Max planes for now

An investigator at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines crash near the town of Bishoftu, south-east of the country's capital Addis Ababa, on Tuesday. All 157 people aboard Flight 302 bound for Nairobi were killed in the crash on Sunday.
An investigator at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines crash near the town of Bishoftu, south-east of the country's capital Addis Ababa, on Tuesday. All 157 people aboard Flight 302 bound for Nairobi were killed in the crash on Sunday.PHOTO: REUTERS

But US regulator promises quick action if review of crash in Ethiopia identifies any safety issues

ADDIS ABABA/WASHINGTON • The US aviation regulator said on Tuesday that it would not ground Boeing 737 Max planes after a crash in Ethiopia which killed 157 people, bucking a trend of countries around the world that have suspended the aircraft's operations.

A spokesman for Ethiopian Airlines said yesterday that the black boxes from Flight 302, which crashed on Sunday, will be sent to Europe for analysis. Mr Asrat Begashaw, who declined to say which country, added: "It will be decided today or tomorrow."

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 B-737 Max family jets in operation before this week's groundings, and about two-thirds of the fleet are now grounded, based on Reuters calculations.

The US Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) acting administrator Dan Elwell said a review by the body "shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft".

Countries across the European Union to Asia have suspended all flights by the B-737 Max, and a US senator who chairs a panel overseeing aviation suggested that the US take similar action following Sunday's crash, the second since last October involving that type of plane.

DANGER OF COMPLEXITY

Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT... I don't know about you, but 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.

U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, in a tweet on Tuesday after being briefed on the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

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

Boeing, the world's biggest planemaker which has seen billions of dollars wiped off its market value since the crash, said it understood the countries' actions, but retained full confidence in the B-737 Max and had safety as its priority.

It also said the FAA had not demanded any further action related to B-737 Max's operations.

The three US airlines using the plane - Southwest Airlines, American Airlines Group 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.

The cause of Sunday's crash, which followed another disaster with a B-737 Max 8 five months ago in Indonesia that killed 189 people, remains unknown.

There is no evidence yet whether the two crashes are linked. Plane experts say it is too early to speculate on the reason for the crash.

Of the top 10 countries by air passenger travel, all but the US and Japan have halted Max 8 flights. China, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and others have temporarily suspended Max 8 flights.

As a growing number of US lawmakers called on the country's regulators to ground the plane, the US Senate Commerce Committee said it plans to hold a hearing on the two crashes involving Max 8 jets.

Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican who chairs the Commerce Committee, said he plans to hold a hearing, along with Senator Ted Cruz, who chairs a sub-committee on aviation and space. Mr Cruz said it would be prudent "to temporarily ground B-737 Max aircraft" until the FAA "confirms the safety of these aircraft and their passengers".

Mr Cruz added that he intends "to hold a hearing to investigate these crashes, determine their contributing factors and ensure that the United States aviation industry remains the safest in the world".

US President Donald Trump, who had been briefed on the Ethiopian Airlines crash, tweeted on Tuesday: "Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT."

He added: "Complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost, yet very little gain. I don't know about you, but 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."

Concerned about the Ethiopia crash, Mr Trump spoke to Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg on Tuesday and received assurances that the aircraft was safe, three people briefed on the call said.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News on Tuesday that it was "very early in the process" of deciding whether to ground the plane. The White House would be in constant contact with the FAA "to make determinations at an appropriate time".

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2019, with the headline 'FAA sees no basis to ground B-737 Max planes for now'. Print Edition | Subscribe