Boeing Co. staggered into a deepening global crisis as governments around the world grounded the company’s best-selling jet over safety concerns after a second deadly crash.
The U.K. blocked flights Tuesday by the 737 Max plane until more information becomes available about why an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft plunged into a hillside near Addis Ababa, killing 157. Germany, France, the Netherlands and Ireland took similar steps. A blanket ban from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency is expected to follow, said a person familiar with the matter.
The global rush to halt flights is leaving Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration isolated a day after they expressed confidence in the jetliner’s airworthiness. Jurisdictions including China, Australia and Singapore had already grounded the Max, as had airlines from Latin America to Africa and the Middle East. But the spread of the ban to Europe deals a major blow to Boeing as it grapples with the aftermath of the African tragedy.
“I’m watching this unfold with an element of astonishment and bemusement,” said Sandy Morris, an analyst at Jefferies in London. “What we’re looking at here is almost a rebellion against the FAA. You’re now looking at American and Southwest and asking, can you really still operate this aircraft?”
Boeing has lost about $27bn in market value this week.
Airlines and regulators have halted flights by at least 150 Max aircraft, a revamped version of the workhorse single-aisle jet that has been a mainstay of Boeing’s lineup since the 1960s.
In the U.S., Southwest Airlines Co. and American Airlines Group Inc. are still flying the 737 Max 8, the model that crashed March 10 in Ethiopia just minutes after takeoff. United Continental Holdings Inc. flies the Max 9.
Investigators are working to retrieve information from the Ethiopian Airlines jet’s black-box flight recorders, which have been recovered. So far, the FAA said, there isn’t evidence to link the loss of that aircraft to an October crash in which a Lion Air 737 Max 8 plunged into the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia.
In the Lion Air accident, anti-stall software baffled pilots by pitching the plane’s nose down dozens of times before it crashed. The system was activated by a reading from a single faulty sensor, without any pilot input, and didn’t respond as the flight crew desperately tried to halt the dive.
Boeing and the FAA announced changes late Monday to the plane’s anti-stall software and faulty sensor readings linked to the Lion Air accident.
Despite FAA support, the 737 Max drew criticism in the U.S. from the White House to airline unions.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, called for the plane to be grounded. President Donald Trump weighed into the controversy, saying just minutes after the U.K. restrictions that “airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly.”
The flight attendants’ union at American Airlines called on Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker to “strongly consider” grounding the company’s fleet of 24 Max 8 planes.
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