U.S., Canada join other nations in grounding 737 MAX jets citing new satellite data and evidence

The United States on Wednesday joined Europe, China, and other countries in grounding Boeing Co's 737 MAX jets, because of safety concerns after an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash that killed 157 people, the second disaster involving the 737 in less than five months.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cited new satellite data and evidence from the scene of Sunday's crash near Addis Ababa for its decision to ground the planes.

Documents of a flight safety database reviewed by AFP also showed that at least four U.S. pilots filed reports that their Boeing aircraft suddenly pitched downward shortly after takeoff last year following the Lion Air crash in Indonesia.

The world's biggest planemaker is facing its most serious crisis in years, as the decades-old 737 program, one of its most reliable sources of cash and profits, takes a severe blow to its prestige.

Shares of the Seattle-based company ended up 0.5 percent at $377.14, recovering from a more than 3-percent fall in the afternoon when the FAA announcement was made.

Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York, said the grounding gives Boeing time to address any problems and not face another potential disaster.

U.S. airlines that operate the 737 MAX, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and United Airlines, said they are working to re-book passengers.

Southwest is the world's largest operator of the 737 MAX 8 with 34 jets, while American flies 24 MAX 8s and United 14 MAX 9s.

Shares of Southwest fell by 0.4 percent.

“The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today,” the FAA said in a statement, shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the planes would be grounded.

“This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision.”

The grounding will remain in effect as the FAA investigates.

Boeing, which maintained that its planes were safe to fly, said in a statement that it supported the move to temporarily ground 737 MAX flights.

“Boeing has determined – out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft's safety – to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft.”

Family members mourn the victims at the crash site of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by the Ethiopian Airlines, at Hama Quntushele Village in the Oromia region, March 13. /VCG‍ Photo

Family members mourn the victims at the crash site of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by the Ethiopian Airlines, at Hama Quntushele Village in the Oromia region, March 13. /VCG‍ Photo

The still-unexplained crash followed another involving a Boeing 737 MAX in Indonesia five months ago that killed 189 people. Although there is no proof of any link, the twin disasters have spooked passengers.

The grounding was welcomed by air workers in the United States. John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union of America, which represents aviation workers and flight attendants, said the grounding was right “both for air travelers and aviation workers.”

New satellite data

Canada also grounded 737 MAX jets on Wednesday, saying satellite data suggested similarities to the previous crash involving the same plane model in October.

Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw said it was still unclear what happened on Sunday, but its pilot had reported control issues as opposed to external factors such as birds.

“The pilot reported flight control problems and requested to turn back. In fact, he was allowed to turn back,” he said.

Democrat Peter DeFazio, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, called for a probe into why the 737 MAX received certification to fly.

“There must be a rigorous investigation into why the aircraft, which has critical safety systems that did not exist on prior models, was certified without requiring additional pilot training,” he said.

Panama's Copa Holdings said it would also suspend operations of its six Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft, but Latin America has largely left it up to carriers to make their own decisions. As of Wednesday night, regulators in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, the largest air travel markets in the region, had not forced the grounding of planes.

(with inputs from AFP)

Source(s): Reuters