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By Corky Siemaszko
Some of America’s biggest airlines, the FAA and Boeing came under pressure Monday to ground a new model of jet after one of the craft owned by Ethiopian Airlines crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 people aboard.
The Boeing Company’s 737 Max 8 and a newer version, the Max 9, are “the fastest-selling airplane in Boeing history,” the corporation says on its website. The company has received “nearly 4,700 orders from more than 100 customers worldwide” for the jets, it says.
But Jim Hall, a former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, said on MSNBC that Boeing should ground all of its 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft until they can be checked for safety.
Hall noted that Sunday’s catastrophe in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa happened less than six months after a new 737 Max 8 plane owned by Lion Air crashed just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia, in late October, killing 189 people.
“My personal feeling on this is that Boeing aircraft company ought to voluntarily itself ground these aircraft because of the similarities between these two accidents,” Hall said. “It’s a brand new aircraft, and we had such a remarkable safety record in aviation, that I think this blip needs to be addressed by the manufacturer, and they need to do a detailed — a detailed look, and with these black boxes available, that’ll be done in a short term.”
The FAA said late Monday afternoon affirmed the airworthiness of the 737 Max 8 and Max 9, but said it “will take appropriate action” if data recovered in the investigation warrants it.
“The FAA has dispatched personnel to support the investigative authorities in determining the circumstances of this event,” the agency said. “All data will be closely examined during this investigation, and the FAA will take appropriate action if the data indicates the need to do so.”
The agency also noted that reports are drawing similarities between this accident and the Indonesia crash in 2018, but cautioned that “this investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions.”
The union representing flight attendants meanwhile called on Boeing, U.S. airlines, the NTSB and the FAA to address safety concerns.
“Crew and passengers are expressing concern about the 737 MAX 8 following a second crash, with similar characteristics to the Lion Air Flight 610 crash,” Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International President Sara Nelson said in a statement. “It is vitally important that U.S. airlines work with Boeing, the FAA, and the NTSB to address concerns and take steps to ensure confidence for the traveling public and working crews.”
Boeing has built 329 of the 737 Max 8 series and 21 of the Max 9 models, the FAA said.
The Chicago-based corporation’s stock price dropped byabout 5.6 percent as of Monday afternoon but then recovered.
In a statement, Boeing said it was sending a team to Ethiopia to provide assistance, but it had not as yet called for grounding the new planes.
“We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team,” the company said in its latest statement. “A Boeing technical team will be traveling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.”
U.S. airlines that fly 737 Max 8 planes also have not indicated any immediate plans to ground their planes.
In response to Twitter messages from apparently worried passengers, Southwest Airlines confirmed it has 34 of the 737 Max 8 version of the planes and said the company is “confident in the safety of our fleet.”
“As Southwest operates a fleet of 34 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, we have been in contact with Boeing and will continue to stay close to the investigation as it progresses,” the airline said in a statement. “We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of our entire fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737 aircraft, and we don’t have any changes planned to 737 MAX operations.”
American Airlines said it has 24 of the 737 Max 8 aircraft and that it will “closely monitor the investigation in Ethiopia.”
“We have full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members, who are the best and most experienced in the industry,” American said in a statement.
In a subsequent statement, American Airlines said it continues to have “confidence in the safe operation of all of our aircraft, including the 737 MAX 8.”
United Airlines said it doesn’t have any 737 Max 8 jets but has 14 of the 737 Max 9 versions in its fleet.
“We have made clear that the Max aircraft is safe and that our pilots are property trained to fly the aircraft safely,” a United Airlines spokesman said.
The Aviation Capital Group, which leases aircraft to airlines around the world, is also a Boeing customer, according to the company website. It was not immediately clear whether it owns the 737 Max 8, the Max 9 or both. NBC News reached out to Aviation Capital for comment but did not immediately hear back.
Canadian airlines such as WestJet, Sunwing Airlines and Air Canada also have 737 Max 8 jets or the Max 9 version in their fleets as does the Mexican airline Aeromexico, according to the Boeing website.
The Air Canada pilots
‘association called on the government “to take proactive action to ensure the safety of the Canadian traveling public.”
“No-one is more invested in the well being of passengers and crew that those who operate the aircraft upon which they fly,” the pilots’ association said in a statement.
China and Indonesia have joined Ethiopia in halting the use of 737 Max 8 and Max 9 jets while the crash investigation was underway.
Chinese aviation authorities suspended the operation of all 737 Max 8 planes by domestic airlines such as Xiamen and Shandong.
In addition, Cayman Airways, which operates in the Caribbean and has regular flights to and from the U.S., said in a statement it too was suspending all 737 Max 8 flights “until more information is received.”