The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has declined to ground U.S.-based Boeing 737 Max 8 jets in the wake of the second fatal crash of the aircraft in five months. However, some other countries have taken that step.
Chinese regulators have ordered the country’s domestic airlines to suspend all 737 Max operations. Cayman Airways is also among the international carriers that have grounded the 737 Max 8 aircraft until more details are known about Sunday’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet that killed all on board.
In a notice issued late Monday, the FAA said the 737 Max aircraft type is airworthy, but then went on to say that it expects it will require Boeing to make design changes to some of the aircraft’s systems no later than next month.
The FDA reacted in the wake of widespread concern because Sunday’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 came just five months after a Lion Air Max 8 also crashed on takeoff.
Investigation just beginning
“External reports are drawing similarities between this accident and the Lion Air Flight 610 accident on October 29, 2018,” the FAA said in its notice. “However, this investigation has just begun and to date, we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions.”
The FAA’s decision drew immediate criticism of Paul Hudson, president of the consumer group FlyersRights.org.
"The FAA's 'wait and see' attitude risks lives as well as the safety reputation of the US aviation industry,” Hudson said. “Even assuming this design defect should not by itself take the aircraft out of service, the failure to warn airlines and pilots of the new feature, and the inadequacy of training requirements, necessitate an immediate temporary grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 8."
American operates 24 Boeing 737 Max 8s and the union representing American flight attendants issued a statement Monday saying that any flight attendants who are uncomfortable working on the aircraft can work on another flight.
In a statement to the media, American said it is working closely with regulatory authorities and “has full confidence in the aircraft.” Southwest Airlines, which flies 34 Max 8s, said it plans no changes in its operations because of Sunday’s crash.
"We have been in contact with Boeing and will continue to stay close to the investigation as it progresses," the company said in the statement.
Focus of the investigation
The investigation into Sunday’s crash is just beginning, but the Lion Air crash in October has focused attention on a new flight control system called MCAS. Though the investigation of the Lion Air crash is ongoing, investigators have suggested the system pushed the nose of the plane down when it was supposed to be climbing.
In the wake of the Lion Air accident, the FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive after an analysis by Boeing showed that “if an erroneously high single angle of attack (AOA) sensor input is received by the flight control system, there is a potential for repeated nose-down trim commands of the horizontal stabilizer.”
It not addressed, the FAA said that could cause the flight crew to have difficulty controlling the airplane, and lead to excessive nose-down attitude and significant loss of altitude.
Travelers booked on a flight can find out if their scheduled plane is a Boeing 737 Max 8 by entering the flight information here.