WASHINGTON: The US aviation regulator said on Tuesday (Mar 12) that there is "no basis" for grounding Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, one of which was involved in a crash in Ethiopia that killed 157 people.
Despite the aviation giant's assurances that the plane is safe and reliable, the European Union, Britain and India joined China and other countries grounding the plane or banning it from their airspace as they await the results of the investigation into the crash.
But the US has so far refused to take similar action against the American aerospace giant's best-selling workhorse aircraft.
"Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft," Federal Aviation Administration chief Daniel Elwell said in a statement.
A new Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 went down minutes into a flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board.
That followed the October crash of a new Lion Air jet of the same model in Indonesia, which killed 189 people shortly after takeoff from Jakarta.
Despite Boeing's assurances that the plane is safe and reliable, the European Union, Britain and India joined China and other countries that either grounded the best-selling plane or banned it from their airspace as they await the investigation into the crash.
The widening actions against the aircraft puts pressure on Boeing - the world's biggest plane manufacturer - to prove the MAX planes are safe, and the company has said it is rolling out flight software updates by April that could address issues with a faulty sensor.
The full extent of the impact of the aircraft bans on international travel routes was unclear. There are about 350 MAX 8 planes currently in service around the world.
Air Canada, for example, announced it was canceling flights to London following Britain's decision to ban the aircraft.
The EU aviation safety agency also closed European airspace to all MAX planes.
It noted that the "exact causes" of the Lion Air crash were still being investigated.
"At this early stage of the related investigation, it cannot be excluded that similar causes may have contributed to both events," the agency added.
India joined the list of countries to ban the jet, a day after saying it had imposed additional interim safety requirements for ground engineers and crew for the aircraft.
Elsewhere, Turkish Airlines, one of the largest carriers in the world, said it was suspending use of its 12 MAX aircraft from Wednesday, until "uncertainty" was clarified.
Low-cost airline Norwegian Air Shuttle, South Korea's Eastar Jet and South Africa's Comair also said they would halt flights.
The developments sent Boeing shares tumbling another six percent, after a five percent drop Monday, wiping billions off its market value.
US President Donald Trump weighed in with a blistering tweet: "Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly."
"Pilot are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT," he wrote, referring to the prestigious university.
Trump later spoke by telephone to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who assured him the aircraft is safe, an industry source told AFP.
US carriers have so far appeared to maintain confidence in Boeing, which has been ordered by the FAA to make changes to flight systems and pilot training procedures.
The move was not enough to reassure the UK Civil Aviation Authority, which said it was banning the planes from UK airspace "as a precautionary measure."
Global air travel hub Singapore, as well as Australia, Malaysia and Oman, were among the other countries to ban all MAX planes from their airspace.
Vietnam joined them on Wednesday, the country's civil aviation authority said.
There are currently no 737 MAX planes in operation by Vietnam carriers, though budget carrier Vietjet has ordered 200 of the model and were expected to receive initial deliveries in the first quarter of this year.
China, a hugely important market for Boeing, has ordered domestic airlines to suspend operations of the plane.
'SIGNIFICANT INDUSTRY IMPACT'
Boeing has described the MAX series as its fastest-selling family of planes, with more than 5,000 orders placed to date from about 100 customers.
But not since the 1970s - when the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 suffered successive fatal incidents - has a new model been involved in two deadly accidents in such a short period.
Thomas Anthony, head of the Aviation Safety and Security Program at the University of Southern California, said increasing automation of planes means crews have less experience flying manually.
"So it's not just a mechanical, it is not just a software problem, but it is a problem of communication and trust," he said.
The plane involved in Sunday's crash was less than four months old, with Ethiopian Airlines saying it was delivered on November 15.
It went down near the village of Tulu Fara, some 60 kilometres east of Addis Ababa.
Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam said the plane had flown in from Johannesburg, spent three hours in Addis and was "dispatched with no remark," meaning no problems were flagged.
Investigators have recovered the black box flight recorders, which could potentially provide information about what happened, depending on their condition.