US grounds 737 MAX aircraft pending accident investigations

US regulators have grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft whilst accident investigators ascertain the cause of two accidents that took the lives of passengers and crew on flights from Indonesia and Ethiopia.

737 MAX
Ethiopian Airlines 737-800 (Pic: Boeing)

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it made the decision to ground 737-8 and 737-9 MAX (737-MAX) models based on new evidence collected at the site where Ethiopia Airlines flight ET30 crashed on March 10 shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa.

“This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning [March 13, 2019], led to this decision,” the FAA said in a statement. It added that the grounding will remain in effect pending further investigation, including examination of information from the aircraft’s flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders, which were recovered on March 11 and have been sent to Paris, France for analysis.

A similar directive was issued on March 12, 2019 by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, which noted: “External reports are drawing similarities between this accident and Lion Air flight 610 on 29 October 2018 involving the same type of aircraft.

“Given the similarity of the two accidents, it has been decided that as a precautionary measure that all Boeing 737-8 MAX and Boeing 737-9 MAX operations in the United Kingdom…should stop until appropriate safeguards are in place.”

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing said it has ‘full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX’ but has recommended to the FAA the temporary suspension of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft.

“We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution,” said Dennis Muilenburg, president, CEO, chairman of Boeing. “We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again.”

Lion Air flight JT610 crashed on October 29, 2018, approximately 13 minutes after taking off from Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta with the loss of 189 lives. Ethiopia Airlines flight ET30 crashed around six minutes after taking off from Bole International Airport on March 10. Boeing, the FAA and US National Transportation Safety Board are assisting Indonesian and Ethiopian-led investigations into both accidents.