The US finally grounded Boeing Co’s money-spinning 737 Max series of aircraft on Wednesday over safety fears, after an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash killed 157 people on Sunday, leaving the world’s largest planemaker facing its worst crisis in years.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cited new satellite data and evidence from the scene of Sunday’s crash near Addis Ababa for its decision to join Europe, China and other nations in suspending 737 Max flights.
The crash was the second disaster involving the 737 Max 8, the world’s most-sold modern passenger aircraft, in less than five months, after a Lion Air flight crashed in Indonesia in October 2018, killing all 189 on board just after take-off.
The new information from the wreckage in Ethiopia and newly refined data about the plane’s flight path indicated some similarities between the two disasters “that warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause,” the FAA said in a statement.
The acting administrator of the FAA, Daniel Elwell, said he did not know how long the US grounding of the aircraft would last. A software fix for the 737 Max that Boeing has been working on since the Indonesia crash will take months to complete, Elwell told reporters.
The single-aisle 737 is central to Boeing’s future in its battle with European rival Airbus SE. The new variant of the 737, the fastest-selling jetliner in Boeing’s history, is viewed as the likely workhorse for global airlines for decades.
“The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today,” the FAA said, shortly after US President Donald Trump announced the planes would be grounded.
It was the second time the FAA has halted flights of a Boeing plane in six years. It grounded the 787 Dreamliner in 2013 because of problems with smoking batteries.
Boeing, which maintained that its planes were safe to fly, said in a statement that it supported the latest FAA move.
“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.”
Passengers have been spooked by the two disasters happened recently. US travel website Kayak was making changes to let customers exclude specific aircraft types from searches, and booking sites were looking to reroute passengers.