The European aviation regulator has suspended flights of the Boeing 737 MAX in EU airspace following the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight on Sunday.
The move came after Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said that it had “closely monitored” the situation in the east African country and had decided to stop airlines using the US-made jet for flights to, from or over Britain.
The European Aviation Safety Agency said on Tuesday evening that it would suspend 737 MAX operations until further notice.
At least nine Britons and eight Americans were among the 157 people who died when Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed minutes after departing Addis Ababa en route to Nairobi, Kenya.
Last year another of the aircraft, flown by Lion Air, crashed shortly after take-off in Indonesia, killing 189 people.
One British airline, holiday firm TUI, has five 737 MAX planes based in the UK. A sixth was due to be delivered this week. It has confirmed that all its MAX aircraft are grounded following the CAA’s decision. One of its MAX planes was still en route to the UK when the suspension was announced, but landed as planned.
TUI said in a statement: “Any customers due to fly home today on a 737 MAX 8 from their holiday will be flown back on another aircraft.
“Customers due to travel in the coming days will also travel on holiday as planned on other aircraft. The safety and wellbeing of our customers and staff has remained our primary concern.”
Meanwhile, two Turkish Airlines flights to London’s Gatwick airport and Birmingham appeared to turn around mid-way through their journeys to the UK, according to FlightRadar 24 data.
The CAA said it had taken the decision as it did not have sufficient information from the flight data recorder, so had taken the “precautionary measure” to halt flights.
“The UK Civil Aviation Authority’s safety directive will be in place until further notice,” it said. “We remain in close contact with the European Aviation Safety Agency and industry regulators globally.”
Britain’s decision saw the country join a growing list of nations and airlines to ground 737 MAX planes.
Ireland, Australia and Singapore moved to stop flights using the type following the Ethiopia crash while South African airline Comair, Oman and South Korean airline Eastar Jet, and airlines in China, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil and India have also temporarily grounded their 737 MAX 8s.
The American aviation authority, the FAA, issued a statement on Monday evening which said that, while others have drawn similarities between the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes, it would not be doing so.
US airlines, including Southwest and American, repeated their belief that the aircraft is safe.
The Boeing 737 MAX was billed as a more economical version of the manufacturer’s long-standing 737 short-haul aircraft series and performed its first flight in January 2016.
Boeing has taken more than 5,000 orders for the various MAX versions, and they constitute the largest share of the company’s production orders of nearly 5,900 planes. They carry list prices from $100m to $135m (£76m to £102m), although airlines routinely get discounts.
Analysis of the black box flight recorder of the Lion Air plane revealed automatic software responded to false sensor readings, prompting a “tug-of-war” between the pilots and the plane, the New York Times reported.
US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that “airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly”. He wrote on Twitter: “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!”
Boeing said in a statement: “We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets.
“We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets.”
Boeing 737 MAX: Which airlines operate the plane?
Southwest Airlines, US – 31
American Airlines, US – 24
Air Canada, Canada – 23
Norwegian Air Shuttle, Norway – 18
China Southern Airlines, China – 16
Air China, China – 15
TUI Travel PLC, UK – 14
China Eastern Airlines, China – 14
Lion Air, Indonesia – 14
United Airlines, US – 14
flyDubai, UAE – 14
Turkish Airlines, Turkey – 12
WestJet Airlines, Canada – 12
Xiamen Airlines, China – 9
SpiceJet, India – 7
Aeromexico, Mexico – 6
Copa Airlines, Panama – 6
GOL Linhas Aereas, Brazil – 6
Shandong Airlines, China – 6
Qatar Airways, Qatar – 5
Shenzhen Airlines, China – 5
SilkAir, Singapore – 5
Ethiopian Airlines Group, Ethiopia – 4
Icelandair, Iceland – 3
Aerolineas Argentinas, Argentina – 2
Fiji Airways, Fiji – 2
Enter Air Sp. z o.o., Poland – 2
Comair (British Airways), South Africa – 1
Garuda International, Indonesia – 1
Royal Air Maroc, Morocco – 1
SCAT Airlines, Kazakhstan – 1
Smartwings, a.s., Czech Republic – 1
Source: Boeing, correct as at 12 March 2019