The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said Tuesday it was suspending all flight operations of all Boeing Model 737-8 and 737-9 Max planes within its airspace as a precautionary measure "to ensure the safety of passengers." The agency also suspended all commercial flights in and out of the EU by third-country operators.
The EU's move came after civil aviation authorities in the UK, France, Germany, Ireland, India, China, Australia, Indonesia, and other nations ordered airlines to suspend operations using the popular Boeing model pending an investigation into the Ethiopia crash. However, the US has said it does not have sufficient information to take the same action.
The fatal crash was the second in less than five months involving Boeing’s newest version of the 737 after a Lion Air Max 8 jet went down Oct. 29 over the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board.
In a statement Tuesday, Boeing said it has "full confidence" in the safety of the 737 Max 8.
"We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets," the company added. "We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets."
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it was aware of "external reports" of similarities between the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes; however, in a statement Monday, the agency said the investigation "has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions."
The FAA did not respond to a request for comment. But the New York Times, citing two people briefed on the conversation, reported that early Tuesday, the chief executive of Boeing, Dennis A. Muilenburg, made the case to President Trump that the 737 Max planes should not be grounded.
As news of the groundings mounted, Trump tweeted that planes "are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT."
Trump was likely referring to concerns that pilots could have difficulty overriding the737 Max's software system during an emergency.
"Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better," Trump tweeted. "Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost yet very little gain."
However, the data show that the airline industry has made progress in becoming one of the safest modes of travel in the world. In 2018, there were 15 fatal airliner crashes, resulting in 556 deaths and making it the third safest year ever by the number of fatal accidents. according to the Aviation Safety Network. Given the total number of flights recorded, the fatal accident rate in 2018 was at 1 per 2.52 million flights, the group added.
“If the accident rate had remained the same as 10 years ago, there would have been 39 fatal accidents last year. At the accident rate of the year 2000, there would have been even 64 fatal accidents," Aviation Safety Network’s CEO Harro Ranter said in a statement. "This shows the enormous progress in terms of safety in the past two decades."
In the US, Southwest and American Airlines are the only carriers that use the Max 8 models, the New York Times reported. On Tuesday, both airlines said that they would continue to operate the aircrafts.
"We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of the MAX 8. We don’t have any changes planned to our MAX 8 operating plans," a spokesperson for Southwest — which operates 34 Max 8 aircrafts — said in a statement.
American Airlines will also continue to operate its 24 MAX 8 aircraft, with a spokesperson saying the company has "full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members."
FlyersRights.org, an airline passengers organization, called on the FAA to ground the 737 Max 8 aircrafts in light of the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes.
"The FAA’s 'wait-and-see' attitude risks lives as well as the safety reputation of the US aviation industry," Paul Hudson, the organization's president, said in a statement.
The Lion Air flight crashed after pilots were "unable to override an automatic control system (MCAS or Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) that was not clearly disclosed by Boeing to airlines and pilots," according to a FlyersRights.org press release.
"Although it is too early to identify the cause of Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash, early signs point to the same problem," the group added.