The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to claim there is no basis to ban the use of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft model that has been involved in two fatal crashes.
Forty countries including the UK have now called for all Max 8s – and in some cases the entire B737 Max family – to be grounded following the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crash in which all 157 passengers and crew on board were killed.
It is the second fatal crash involving the Max 8 in five months, with a Lion Air flight plunging into the sea shortly after take-off in October, killing all 189 people on board.
In the latter incident, initial investigations found the pilots may have struggled with a system that could force the nose of the aircraft down if a sensor believes the ‘angle of attack’ is too high on take-off to avoid stalling.
Investigators have not found the cause of the Ethiopian Airlines crash and say they cannot rule out other technical issues or human error. The carrier claims the aircraft involved had been subject to a “rigorous first check maintenance” on 4 February.
However, the FAA says its review of the Ethiopia crash “shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft”. It also says “no other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action”.
In a statement, the governing body said it would take “immediate action” if its investigation did turn up any faults with the aircraft.
The FAA’s stance has proven unpopular with US politicians, including Republican senator Ted Cruz, who chairs a subcommittee on aviation and space, and Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who wants the US to follow other nations and “get these planes out of the sky”.
And the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union is calling on the FAA to ground the B737 Max fleet “out of an abundance of caution”.
Although the FAA has not banned the Max 8, any US airlines that wish to ground their fleet of the aircraft can do so of their own accord.
Southwest Airlines is continuing to use the aircraft, but is offering passengers the chance to change their booking if they are scheduled to fly on a Max 8 and don’t feel comfortable. American Airlines – which partners with British Airways on some flights to the UK – said its standard change policy applies.
Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam has told the Wall Street Journal that the pilot of flight 302 reported "flight control problems" to air traffic control and had requested permission to return to Bole airport in Addis Ababa. He had not mentioned a bird strike or external malfunctions.
GebreMariam has called on all airlines around the globe to ground their 737 Max aircraft and said Ethiopian Airlines will be sending the flight data recorders recovered from the wreckage to European authorities for analysis rather than the US.
According to the Guardian, it has allegedly emerged that pilots on at least two flights in the US filed safety concerns about the aircraft after its nose tilted down when they engaged autopilot.
One pilot also complained that Boeing had not properly explained changes to the 737 Max's automatic systems and described the flight manual as "inadequate and almost criminally insufficient".
In a statement, Boeing said: "Safety is Boeing's number one priority and we have full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max. 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."