Boeing 737 MAX crash victims urge more steps by FAA before flight approval

By Tracy Rucinski and Eric M. Johnson

CHICAGO/SEATTLE (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s proposed changes to the Boeing Co. 737 MAX fail to fix structural flaws on the jet that suffered two fatal crashes, victims’ families said on Thursday, urging additional steps including a full aerodynamic review.

The FAA said last month it is proposing requiring four key 737 MAX design and operating changes that would pave the path for the jet to fly again, possibly later this year, following an 18-month global grounding.

But in a filing as part of a 45-day public comment period on the agency’s proposed airworthiness directive, crash victim families said the proposals leave critical questions on the airplane’s safety unanswered.

“They fail to address the root cause of the problem: the 737 MAX’s inherent aerodynamic instability,” said the families, who were advised by aerospace experts.

Boeing’s proposed modification of a software system called MCAS linked to both crashes does not address the underlying aerodynamic problem, introduces greater complexity, and may create additional failure modes, they said in the filing, which was signed by more than 2,000 family members.

The families called for a complete aerodynamic evaluation of the 737 MAX to understand the airplane’s pitch-up tendency and a simplified crew alert system so that pilots are not overwhelmed by multiple warning systems.

In both crashes, the MCAS flight control system, triggered by erroneous data from a single angle-of-attack airflow sensor, repeatedly and forcefully pushed down the jet’s nose as pilots struggled to regain control.

If the MAX is certified to fly again with a less powerful MCAS system, the families called for a third active angle-of-attack sensor and accompanying software to detect sensor failures.

They also said the FAA should disclose to the public the data it used to make its decisions and commission a new independent review board to assess the findings and the 737 MAX’s safety before returning it to service.

An 18-month investigation by U.S. lawmakers found the crashes were the “horrific culmination” of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA.

Aside from the FAA’s final airworthiness directive, Boeing is facing reviews by foreign regulators, who are also weighing new pilot training procedures.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

U.S. proposes to waive minimum flight requirements for airlines until March 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Friday it is proposing extending temporarily waiving minimum flight requirements at some U.S. airports through late March 2021.

Airlines can lose their slots at congested airports if they do not use them at least 80% of the time. The FAA said it proposing extending waving requirements at New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport that were set to expire in October.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Senate panel to take up FAA aircraft certification reform bill

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Sept. 16 will hold a hearing to consider a bill to strengthen U.S. oversight of aircraft certification following two fatal Boeing Co. 737 MAX crashes.

The measure seeks to eliminate the ability of aircraft makers like Boeing to unduly influence the certification process. It marks the most significant step toward reforms following the 2018 and 2019 crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people and sparked demands to change how the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approves new airplanes.

Boeing and the FAA did not immediately comment.

U.S. Senate Commerce Committee chair Roger Wicker, a Republican, and ranking member Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, introduced the proposal in June that would grant the FAA new power over the long-standing practice of delegating some certification tasks to aircraft manufacturer employees. It would give the agency authority to hire or remove Boeing employees conducting FAA certification tasks and allow the FAA to appoint safety advisers.

Boeing is still working to win regulatory approvals to resume commercial service of its 737 MAX since the plane was grounded worldwide in March 2019, plunging the Chicago-based company into a crisis since compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boeing also faces lawsuits and an ongoing criminal probe.

The Senate legislation would grant new whistleblower protections to workers at airplane and parts manufacturers. It would also require the FAA to create a new safety reporting system for employees to detail concerns anonymously.

While victims’ family members applauded proposed reforms, they are also demanding that critical aircraft systems – like the MCAS flight control system linked to both crashes – be approved by the FAA, not just Boeing, and that manufacturers be required to re-certify new aircraft derived from earlier models.

Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told Reuters in July he planned to introduce FAA certification reform legislation in September, saying the Senate bill was a good start but did not go far enough.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and Chizu Nomiyama)

FAA issues emergency directive on 2,000 Boeing 737 NG, Classic planes

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Friday issued an emergency airworthiness directive for 2,000 U.S.-registered Boeing 737 NG and Classic aircraft that have been in storage, warning they could have corrosion that could lead to a dual-engine failure.

The directive covers planes not operated for seven or more consecutive days. The FAA issued the directive after inspectors found compromised air check valves when bringing aircraft out of storage.

If corrosion is found, the valve must be replaced prior to the aircraft’s return to service, the FAA said.

Boeing Co. said on Friday it had advised operators to inspect the planes and added “with airplanes being stored or used infrequently due to lower demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, the valve can be more susceptible to corrosion.”

U.S. airlines stored thousands of airplanes after the coronavirus pandemic sharply reduced travel demand and some have been bringing some aircraft back into service as demand rises.

The directive covering the 737 NG (600 to 900 series) and 737 Classic (737-300 to 737-500 series) was prompted by four recent reports of single-engine shutdowns caused by engine bleed air 5th stage check valves stuck in the open position.

The FAA said the directive is to address corrosion of the engine bleed air 5th stage check valves for both engines. The agency said that could result in compressor stalls and dual-engine power loss without the ability to restart.

Boeing said it is providing inspection and replacement information to fleet owners if they find an issue.

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, two large U.S. operators of the 737, said they had not experienced the issues described in the directive. United Airlines said it is complying with the directive and does not anticipate an impact on operations.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Matthew Lewis)

Hundreds of U.S. flights canceled after air traffic coronavirus cases

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. airlines have canceled hundreds of flights at three major U.S. airports this week after a series of coronavirus cases involving air traffic control personnel.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) temporarily closed the air traffic control tower at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York early Friday before reopening it around 11:30 a.m. ET (1530 GMT). The FAA also shuttered part of the Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center for cleaning after workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

The FAA said a technician at JFK had tested positive and air traffic controllers had been operating earlier from an alternate location on airport property.

American Airlines Group Inc <AAL.O> said it canceled 20 of its 68 scheduled departures from JFK on Friday due to a reduced incoming arrival rate after traffic control was shifted to the other location.

In Indiana, after an air traffic control supervisor tested positive, the FAA vacated work areas at the Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control and flights through the airspace handled by those sectors were rerouted.

Air traffic control towers remain closed at Chicago Midway and Las Vegas airports after other coronavirus cases were reported earlier this week.

Airlines have canceled more than 700 flights on Thursday and Friday at Las Vegas and more than 800 over the last two days at Midway, according to flightaware.com.

Southwest Airlines <LUV.N> has resumed operations in Chicago after canceling more than 200 flights on Thursday. The airline said it had also canceled another 150 flights at Chicago and more than 165 flights at Las Vegas airport on Friday.

On Thursday, the FAA placed a temporary flight restriction over Midway to allow only commercial flights and other authorized flights after a number of local private pilots began using the airport for touch-and-go landing practice.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Chris Reese and Richard Chang)

Utah hit with 5.7-magnitude quake, inbound flights from Salt Lake City diverted

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Wednesday it had evacuated the air control tower at Salt Lake City International Airport and halted flights after a magnitude 5.7 earthquake was reported nearby.

The FAA said it “has implemented a ground stop for (Salt Lake City) and is diverting inbound aircraft to other airports.” The FAA’s Salt Lake Air Route Traffic Control Center is handling all air traffic in the area.

Salt Lake City is the 23rd busiest U.S. airport and a hub for Delta Air Lines.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Ethiopia says crashed jet’s black boxes show similarities to Lion Air disaster

A woman mourns next to coffins during the burial ceremony of the Ethiopian Airline Flight ET 302 crash victims at the Holy Trinity Cathedral Orthodox church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Maheder Haileselassie

 

By Maggie Fick and David Shepardson

ADDIS ABABA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane that killed 157 people had “clear similarities” with October’s Lion Air crash, Ethiopia said on Sunday, shown by initial analysis of the black boxes recovered from the wreckage of the March 10 disaster.

The crash has generated one of the most widely watched and high-stakes inquiries for years, with the latest version of Boeing’s profitable 737 workhorse depending on the outcome.

Both planes were MAX 8s, and both crashed minutes post take-off after pilots reported flight control problems. Concern over the plane’s safety led aviation authorities to ground the model, wiping billions of dollars off Boeing’s market value.

“It was the same case with the Indonesian (Lion Air) one. There were clear similarities between the two crashes so far,” Ethiopian transport ministry spokesman Muse Yiheyis said.

“The data was successfully recovered. Both the American team and our (Ethiopian) team validated it,” he told Reuters, adding that the ministry would provide more information after three or four days.

In Washington, however, U.S. officials told Reuters the FAA and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had not yet validated the data.

Boeing’s safety analysis of a new flight control system known as MCAS on MAX jets had several crucial flaws, one of which was that it understated the power of the system, the Seattle Times said on Sunday.

The FAA also did not delve in detailed inquiries and followed a standard certification process on the MAX, the paper said, citing an FAA spokesman.

The FAA declined to comment on the report but referred to previous statements about the certification process. It has said the process followed FAA’s standard process.

Citing people familiar with the inquiry, the Wall Street Journal said Department of Transportation officials are scrutinizing the FAA’s approval of MAX jets and a Washington, D.C. grand jury issued a subpoena to at least one person involved in the MAX’s development.

The subpoena dated March 11 – a day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash – listed as a contact a prosecutor from the Justice Department’s (DoJ) criminal division and sought documents to be handed over later this month, the paper said.

It was not immediately clear whether the DoJ subpoena was related to the DoT’s inquiry, which focuses on MCAS, implicated in the Lion Air crash that killed 189 people, the WSJ added.

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment on the WSJ report.

Two government officials briefed on the matter told Reuters it would not be surprising for the Transportation Department to investigate a major safety issue, but could not immediately confirm the report.

SAFETY ANALYSIS

An official told Reuters that when investigators – after reviewing black box data from the Ethiopian Airlines crash – return to Addis Ababa to conduct interpretive work, the NTSB and FAA will assist in verification and validation of the data.

A second source said little information had been circulated between parties about the contents of data and voice recordings.

It was not clear how many of the roughly 1,800 parameters of flight data and two hours of cockpit recordings, spanning the doomed six-minute flight and earlier trips, had been taken into account in the preliminary Ethiopian analysis.

International rules require a preliminary report on the crash to be released within 30 days.

Previous air crash reports show that in such high-profile cases there can be disagreements among parties about the cause.

In Paris, France’s BEA air accident investigation agency said data from the jet’s cockpit voice recorder had been successfully downloaded. The French agency said on Twitter it had not listened to the audio files and the data had been transferred to Ethiopian investigators.

In Addis Ababa, a source who has listened to the air traffic control recording of the plane’s communications said flight 302 had an unusually high speed after take-off before it reported problems and asked permission to climb quickly.

Last Monday, Boeing, shares of which have fallen 10 percent in the week since the crash, said it would deploy a software upgrade to the 737 MAX 8, hours after the FAA said it would mandate “design changes” in the aircraft by April.

Boeing was finalizing the software change and a training revision and would evaluate new information as it became available, Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement on Sunday, after the Ethiopian transport ministry’s comments.

A Boeing spokesman said the 737 MAX was certified in line with identical FAA requirements and processes that governed certification of all previous new airplanes and derivatives. The spokesman said the FAA concluded that MCAS on 737 MAX met all certification and regulatory requirements.

(Graphic – The grounded 737 Max fleet: https://tmsnrt.rs/2u5sZYI)

(Graphic – Ethiopian Airlines crash: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Hn6V4k)

(Additional reporting Gaurika Juneja, Tim Hepher, Tracy Rucinski; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh; Editing by William Maclean and Clarence Fernandez)

The crash has generated one of the most widely watched and high-stakes inquiries for years, with the latest version of Boeing’s profitable 737 workhorse depending on the outcome.

Both planes were MAX 8s, and both crashed minutes post take-off after pilots reported flight control problems. Concern over the plane’s safety led aviation authorities to ground the model, wiping billions of dollars off Boeing’s market value.

“It was the same case with the Indonesian (Lion Air) one. There were clear similarities between the two crashes so far,” Ethiopian transport ministry spokesman Muse Yiheyis said.

“The data was successfully recovered. Both the American team and our (Ethiopian) team validated it,” he told Reuters, adding that the ministry would provide more information after three or four days.

In Washington, however, U.S. officials told Reuters the FAA and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had not yet validated the data.

Boeing’s safety analysis of a new flight control system known as MCAS on MAX jets had several crucial flaws, one of which was that it understated the power of the system, the Seattle Times said on Sunday.

The FAA also did not delve in detailed inquiries and followed a standard certification process on the MAX, the paper said, citing an FAA spokesman.

The FAA declined to comment on the report but referred to previous statements about the certification process. It has said the process followed FAA’s standard process.

Citing people familiar with the inquiry, the Wall Street Journal said Department of Transportation officials are scrutinizing the FAA’s approval of MAX jets and a Washington, D.C. grand jury issued a subpoena to at least one person involved in the MAX’s development.

The subpoena dated March 11 – a day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash – listed as a contact a prosecutor from the Justice Department’s (DoJ) criminal division and sought documents to be handed over later this month, the paper said.

It was not immediately clear whether the DoJ subpoena was related to the DoT’s inquiry, which focuses on MCAS, implicated in the Lion Air crash that killed 189 people, the WSJ added.

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment on the WSJ report.

Two government officials briefed on the matter told Reuters it would not be surprising for the Transportation Department to investigate a major safety issue, but could not immediately confirm the report.

SAFETY ANALYSIS

An official told Reuters that when investigators – after reviewing black box data from the Ethiopian Airlines crash – return to Addis Ababa to conduct interpretive work, the NTSB and FAA will assist in verification and validation of the data.

A second source said little information had been circulated between parties about the contents of data and voice recordings.

It was not clear how many of the roughly 1,800 parameters of flight data and two hours of cockpit recordings, spanning the doomed six-minute flight and earlier trips, had been taken into account in the preliminary Ethiopian analysis.

International rules require a preliminary report on the crash to be released within 30 days.

Previous air crash reports show that in such high-profile cases there can be disagreements among parties about the cause.

In Paris, France’s BEA air accident investigation agency said data from the jet’s cockpit voice recorder had been successfully downloaded. The French agency said on Twitter it had not listened to the audio files and the data had been transferred to Ethiopian investigators.

In Addis Ababa, a source who has listened to the air traffic control recording of the plane’s communications said flight 302 had an unusually high speed after take-off before it reported problems and asked permission to climb quickly.

Last Monday, Boeing, shares of which have fallen 10 percent in the week since the crash, said it would deploy a software upgrade to the 737 MAX 8, hours after the FAA said it would mandate “design changes” in the aircraft by April.

Boeing was finalizing the software change and a training revision and would evaluate new information as it became available, Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement on Sunday, after the Ethiopian transport ministry’s comments.

A Boeing spokesman said the 737 MAX was certified in line with identical FAA requirements and processes that governed certification of all previous new airplanes and derivatives. The spokesman said the FAA concluded that MCAS on 737 MAX met all certification and regulatory requirements.

(Graphic – The grounded 737 Max fleet: https://tmsnrt.rs/2u5sZYI)

(Graphic – Ethiopian Airlines crash: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Hn6V4k)

(Additional reporting Gaurika Juneja, Tim Hepher, Tracy Rucinski; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh; Editing by William Maclean and Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. lawmakers say Boeing 737 MAX 8 grounded for at least ‘weeks’

FILE PHOTO: Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are parked at a Boeing production facility in Renton, Washington, U.S., March 11, 2019. REUTERS/David Ryder

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers said after a briefing with the acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday that Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 planes will remain grounded for “weeks” at a minimum until a software upgrade could be tested and installed in all of the planes.

FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told reporters on Wednesday the software update will be ready within a couple of months after regulators around the world grounded the plane following a second fatal crash in the 737 MAX 8 since October.

The FAA said Monday it planned to require the upgrade it termed “design changes” by April. An FAA spokesman confirmed Thursday that the FAA will not unground the airplanes until the software patch is approved and installed.

Boeing and the FAA did not immediately comment. Representative Rick Larsen said after the briefing the software upgrade would take a few weeks to complete and installing on all aircraft would take “at least through April.” He said additional training would also have to take place.

Representative Peter DeFazio, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the software upgrade will result in the airplanes behaving more like older versions of the 737.

The upgrade will revise an automated protection system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS, which come under scrutiny in October’s fatal Lion Air crash in Indonesia.

“After the pilot has tried to correct, the MCAS is going to not keep repeating itself, which is what it does now. It keeps triggering automatically and the pilot has to do it again,” DeFazio said unless it is manually disengaged by the pilot. “It will essentially shut itself off.”

The upgrade will address if there is a disagreement between sensors, DeFazio said.

Lawmakers noted that there have been no confirmed incidents in 50,000 North America flights with the 737 MAX 8 and questioned if training by carriers abroad was an issue.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)

Ethiopia crash black boxes probed in France, families mourn

A relative puts soil on her face as she mourns at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

By Richard Lough and Aaron Maasho

PARIS/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Investigators in France took possession of the crashed Ethiopian Airlines jet’s black boxes on Thursday, seeking clues into a disaster that has grounded Boeing’s global 737 MAX fleet and left scores of families mourning and angry.

Sunday’s crash after take-off from Addis Ababa killed 157 people from 35 nations in the second such calamity involving Boeing’s flagship new model in six months.

Candle flames burn during a commemoration ceremony for the victims at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Candle flames burn during a commemoration ceremony for the victims at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Possible links between the accidents have rocked the aviation industry, scared passengers worldwide, and left the world’s biggest planemaker scrambling to prove the safety of a money-spinning model intended to be the standard for decades.

Relatives of the dead stormed out of a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday, decrying a lack of transparency, while others made the painful trip to the crash scene.

“I can’t find you! Where are you?” said one Ethiopian woman, draped in traditional white mourning shawl, as she held a framed portrait of her brother in the charred and debris-strewn field.

Nations around the world, including an initially reluctant United States, have suspended the 371 MAX models in operation, though airlines are largely coping by switching planes.

Another nearly 5,000 MAXs are on order, meaning the financial implications are huge for the industry.

PARIS INVESTIGATION

After an apparent tussle over where the investigation should be held, the flight data and cockpit voice recorders arrived in Paris and were handed over to France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) agency.

A BEA spokesman said he did not know what condition the black boxes were in. “First we will try to read the data,” he said, adding that the first analyses could take between half a day and several days.

Ethiopian Federal policemen stand at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Ethiopian Federal policemen stand at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

The investigation has added urgency since the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday grounded the 737 MAX aircraft citing satellite data and evidence from the scene indicating some similarities and “the possibility of a shared cause” with October’s crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people.

Though it maintains the planes are safe, Boeing has supported the FAA move. Its stock has fallen about 11 percent since the crash, wiping nearly $26 billion off its market value.

It is unclear how long the Boeing aircraft will be grounded.

A software fix for the 737 MAX that Boeing has been working on since the Lion Air crash in October in Indonesia will take months to complete, the FAA said on Wednesday.

Deliveries of Boeing’s best-selling jets have been effectively frozen, though production continues.

And in what may presage a raft of claims, Norwegian Air has said it will seek compensation from Boeing for costs and lost revenue after grounding its fleet of 737 MAX. Japan became the latest nation to suspend the 737 MAX planes on Thursday. And airline Garuda Indonesia said there was a possibility it would cancel its 20-strong order of 737 MAXs, depending on what the FAA does.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Under international rules, the Ethiopians are leading the investigation but France’s BEA will conduct black box analysis as an advisor. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will also have an influential role as representatives of the country where the Boeing plane was made.

The choice of the BEA followed what experts say appears to have been a tug-of-war between national agencies, with Germany initially invited to do the analysis.

Ethiopian Airlines criticized a French-backed investigation into a crash in Lebanon in 2010, when an Ethiopian plane crashed into the sea after take-off. It said the investigation was biased against the pilots, who were blamed for the crash.

There is a small pool of countries including Britain, France, the United States, Canada and Australia that are seen as leading investigators. But only France and the United States have the experience gleaned from being present at almost every crash involving an Airbus or Boeing respectively.

Since the Indonesia crash, there has been attention on an automated anti-stall system in the MAX model that dips the plane’s nose down.

The pilot of Flight 302 had reported internal control problems and received permission to return, before the plane came down and burst into a fireball on arid farmland.

Relatives are desperate to know what happened and to receive fragments if not corpses, given the fire and destruction at the site. They were at least able to vent their grief.

“We saw where he died and touched the earth,” said Sultan Al-Mutairi, who came from Riyadh to say goodbye to his brother Saad, who ran a recruitment agency in Kenya.

(Reporting by Richard Lough, Tim Hepher and John Irish in Paris, Duncan Miriri and Aaron Masho in Addis Ababa, David Shepardson in Washington, Omar Mohammed and Maggie Fick in Nairobi; Josephine Mason in London; Junko Fujita in Tokyo; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Britain joins Boeing suspensions, investigators probe Ethiopia crash

Passengers' personal belongings are seen at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

By Duncan Miriri and Tim Hepher

ADDIS ABABA/PARIS (Reuters) – Britain joined a growing wave of suspensions of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft around the world on Tuesday, escalating the global alarm after a crash in Ethiopia that killed 157 people in the second such disaster for the model in the past few months.

The decision by one of the industry’s most established regulators was the most serious setback yet for Boeing in the wake of Sunday’s crash and put pressure on regulators in the rest of Europe and the United States to follow suit.

At the same time as London’s announcement, Norwegian Air said it too would temporarily ground its MAX 8 passenger jets on the advice of European regulators.

Earlier, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and Oman had also temporarily suspended the aircraft, following China, Indonesia and others the day before.

“The UK, Singapore and Australia are independent professionals,” said Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia. “I am sure the (U.S.) Federal Aviation Administration will take their judgment into account.”

Sunday’s disaster – after the fatal crash of a 737 MAX jet in Indonesia in October – has wiped billions of dollars off the market value of the world’s biggest planemaker.

But experts say it is too early to speculate on the reason for the crash or whether the two are linked. Most crashes are caused by a unique chain of human and technical factors.

Given problems of identification at the charred disaster site, Ethiopian Airlines said it would take at least five days to start handing remains to families.

The victims came from more than 30 different nations, and included nearly two dozen U.N. staff.

“We are Muslim and have to bury our deceased immediately,” Noordin Mohamed, a 27-year-old Kenyan businessman whose brother and mother died, told Reuters.

“Losing a brother and mother in the same day and not having their bodies to bury is very painful,” he said in the Kenyan capital Nairobi where the plane had been due.

 

Wreckage is seen at the site of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Wreckage is seen at the site of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

FIREBALL

Flight ET 302 came down in a field soon after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday, 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.

The United States has said it remained safe to fly the planes, and Boeing has said there is no need to issue new guidance to operators based on the information it has so far.

Ethiopian Airlines has grounded its four other 737 MAX 8 jets as a precaution.

Anxiety was also evident among some travelers, who rushed to find out from social media and travel agents whether they were booked to fly on 737 MAX planes – the same model in the Lion Air crash off Indonesia that killed 189 people in October.

If the black box recordings found at the Ethiopian crash site are undamaged, the cause of the crash could be identified quickly, although it typically takes a year for a full probe.

Nearly 40 percent of the in-service fleet of 371 Boeing 737 MAX jets globally is grounded, according to industry publication Flightglobal. That includes 97 jets in biggest market China.

Boeing shares fell another 4.8 percent on Tuesday after having lost 5 percent on Monday.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a “continued airworthiness notification” for the 737 MAX on Monday to assure operators, and detailed a series of design changes mandated by Boeing after the Indonesia crash.

FILE PHOTO - SilkAir's new aircraft, the Boeing 737 Max 8, sits on the tarmac at Changi Airport in Singapore October 4, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

FILE PHOTO – SilkAir’s new aircraft, the Boeing 737 Max 8, sits on the tarmac at Changi Airport in Singapore October 4, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

BETTER SOFTWARE

Boeing said it had been working with the FAA following the Lion Air crash to enhance flight control software that would be deployed across the 737 MAX fleet in the coming weeks.

The MAX 8 has new software that automatically pushes the plane’s nose down if a stall is detected. There is no evidence so far whether the system was involved in the Ethiopia crash, though experts said this would be a focus of the investigation.

The new variant of the 737, the world’s best-selling modern passenger aircraft, could become the workhorse for airlines around the globe for decades and another 4,661 are on order.

In Latin America, Gol in Brazil temporarily suspended MAX 8 flights, as did Argentina’s state airline Aerolineas Argentinas and Mexico’s Aeromexico.

In Asia, South Korean budget carrier Eastar Jet said it would temporarily ground its two 737 MAX 8s from Wednesday, while India ordered additional checks.

Vietnam state media reported the aviation regulator would not issue licenses to local airlines to operate the 737 MAX until the cause of the Ethiopian crash was known.

Still, major airlines from North America to the Middle East kept flying the 737 MAX. Southwest Airlines Co, which operates the largest fleet of 737 MAX 8s, said it remained confident in the safety of all its Boeing planes.

Former FAA accident investigator Mike Daniel said the decision by regulators to ground the planes was premature. “To me it’s almost surreal how quickly some of the regulators are just grounding the aircraft without any factual information yet as a result of the investigation,” he told Reuters.

In Nairobi, the U.N. Environment Program set up a small memorial for Victor Tsang, a staff member who lost his life.

“Travel well my friend, see you on the other side,” said one entry in a condolence book beside a framed photograph, bouquet of flowers and candle. By mid-afternoon, 23 pages of the condolence book had been filled with over 250 names.

(Additional reporting by Jamie Freed and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Katharine Houreld and Hereward Holland in Nairobi; Eric Johnson in Seattle; James Pearson in Hanoi; Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Heekyong Yang in Seoul; Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Georgina Prodhan, Jon Boyle and Keith Weir)