IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Ethiopian Airlines crash: FAA is resisting calls by aviation advocates to ground Boeing jets

"Had these accidents occurred in the United States, would we still be discussing this?" one former official said.
Get more newsLiveon

The Federal Aviation Administration doubled down on its decision to allow airline carriers to continue operating the Boeing 737 Max aircraft in the United States after numerous aviation authorities across the globe decided to ground the jet series in response to an Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 people on board.

Aviation experts, consumer advocates and politicians on both sides of the aisle have called for the FAA to get the 737 Max 8 and Max 9 out of the skies while safety concerns are addressed.

But the federal agency stood strong in a statement on Tuesday night.

"Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft. Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action," the FAA said in a statement, adding that it would act quickly if it identified any issues that affected the jet series' airworthiness.

This most recent crash of the new Boeing series comes less than six months after a Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October killed all 189 people on board.

Some industry leaders and consumer advocates say the 737 Max jets should be grounded until a thorough investigation of both crashes is completed.

Several countries and Norwegian Airlines ordered that the planes be grounded until further notice, and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, the lead European regulator, piled on Tuesday afternoon when it announced that it would suspend all flight operations of the aircraft on the continent.

The FAA, meanwhile, maintains that U.S. airlines can still fly the jet model.

That has led to criticism of the FAA for not taking more concrete action.

"There’s been very little attention that has been paid in our country to the large loss of life in both of these accidents," said James Hall, a transportation safety expert and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. "Had these accidents occurred in the United States, would we still be discussing this or would there be more effective action from our regulator and one of the largest air manufacturers in the world?"

Rep. David Price, D-N.C., the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, sent a letter to FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell on Tuesday demanding further answers and transparency around the agency's decision making.

It "appears that the FAA is out of step with other aviation safety organizations around the world," Price said.

Image: An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 lands at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York, on March 11, 2019.
An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 lands at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York, on March 11, 2019.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

The FAA reported that 74 jets of Boeing series are flying in the U.S. and almost 400 are operational across the globe. Two of the largest U.S. carriers, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, operate dozens of the aircraft within the United States.

The two airliners maintain that the jet series is safe, but a lack of transparency around their convictions has drawn criticism from consumer advocates and politicians.

"Telling the public that the airplane is airworthy, as the FAA has done, without offering further explanation, does far too little to relieve the uncertainty and fear created by these two tragedies," William McGee, aviation adviser for Consumer Reports, said. "While the investigators continue their work, the government and airlines should put safety first."

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA also called for the FAA to ground the aircraft, though the union's president, Sara Nelson, added that the public should not jump to conclusions.

"This is about public confidence in the safety of air travel," Nelson said. "The United States has the safest aviation system in the world, but Americans are looking for leadership in this time of uncertainty. The FAA must act decisively to restore the public faith in the system."

There was bipartisan agreement on this issue as 2020 presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, have said the FAA should reverse its decision and ground the planes until consumer safety concerns are addressed.

"Today, immediately, the FAA needs to get these planes out of the sky," Warren said in a statement that noted that the jet series is a major driver of Boeing profits.

Hall, who said he would not step foot onto one of the jets, emphasized that the agency should be concerned because it is the one that certified the aircraft series as safe.

Safety is key to credibility in the aviation world and is the reason for the industry's continued success, Hall said, noting that there had been zero accidents for numerous years in the U.S.

“They ought to take note that one of the most respected aviation authorities in the world — the [United Kingdom's] Civil Aviation Authority — is recommending the aircraft be grounded," Hall added. "Your reputation is something you ought to protect."

CORRECTION (March 13, 2019, 09:20 a.m.): A previous version of this article misidentified the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. It is David Price, not Daniel Elwell.

CORRECTION (March, 13, 2019, 10:55 a.m.): A previous version of this article misstated the last name of the FAA acting administrator. He is Daniel Elwell, not Ewell.