Boeing has grounded its fleet of 737 Max aircraft, citing an “abundance of caution” following a second fatal crash involving the model.
The move follows new evidence being uncovered at the site of the Ethiopian Airlines crash which resulted in the deaths of 157 people on Sunday.
Boeing said it was grounding the 371 737 Max aircraft currently in operation as the US Federal Aviation Administration joined regulatory bodies including the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority and its equivalent in Canada in issuing temporary bans on the aircraft.
The Ethiopian Airlines crash was the second fatal incident involving a 737 Max, following the crash of a Lion Air aircraft in Indonesia in October.
A Boeing statement attributed to chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said: “Boeing continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max.
“However, after consultation with the US Federal Aviation Administration, the US National Transportation Safety Board, and aviation authorities and its customers around the world, 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.”
Dan Elwell, acting administrator at the FAA, said yesterday: “It became clear to all parties that the track of the Ethiopian Airlines [flight] was very close and behaved very similarly to the Lion Air flight.”
He added that “the evidence we found on the ground made it even more likely the flight path was very close to Lion Air’s”.
US carrier Southwest Airlines immediately removed all 34 of the aircraft from scheduled service.
Although it has the biggest fleet of Max 8s in the world, Southwest Airlines said they account “for less than 5% of our daily flights”.
The airline is offering “flexible rebooking policies” which means that any customer booked on a cancelled Max 8 flight can rebook on alternate flights “without any additional fees or fare differences within 14 days of their original date of travel”.
American Airlines said 24 of its aircraft would be affected by the suspension, adding: “Our teams will be working to rebook customers as quickly as possible, and we apologise for any inconvenience.”
United Airlines said that its Max aircraft account for about 40 flights a day.
“Through a combination of spare aircraft and rebooking customers, we do not anticipate a significant operational impact as a result of this order,” the carrier said.
Air Italy said it had arranged a replacement aircraft through strategic partner, Bulgaria Air, following the grounding of its 737 Max 8 fleet.
An Airbus A319 will be leased to the Italian carrier for an unspecified time.
Chief operating officer Rossen Dimitrov said: “With the grounding of our B737 aircraft, it was vital to find alternative aircraft as rapidly as possible to minimise any impact on our passengers.”