UK becomes latest country to ground Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after Ethiopian Airlines crash

Britain banned airlines from flying Boeing 737 Max 8 planes into or out of the country on Tuesday as pressure mounts to halt flights of the U.S. plane giant’s hottest selling aircraft.

A team of U.S. aviation experts arrived in Ethiopia on Tuesday and began collecting data aimed at solving the mystery of the Ethiopian Airlines jet that crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa two days ago, killing all 157 aboard.

The MAX 8, which was just four months old and six minutes into its flight to Nairobi on Sunday morning when it nosedived into a field, has become a critical focus of the investigation. More than two dozen airlines around the world have grounded the planes.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it was providing technical support to the Ethiopian Accident Investigation Bureau.

“An FAA team is on-site with the (National Transportation Safety Board) in its investigation of Ethiopia Flight 302,” the FAA said in a statement. “We are collecting data and keeping in contact with international civil aviation authorities as information becomes available.”

Boeing said it was also aiding the investigation.

Women mourn during a memorial ceremony for the seven crew members who died in the Ethiopian Airlines accident at the Ethiopian Pilot Association Club in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 11, 2019.

The tragedy comes less than five months after a Lion Air plane of the same model crashed into the Java Sea – 12 minutes after departing from the airport in Jakarta, Indonesia. None of the 189 passengers and crew survived.

The first Max 8s made their debut two years ago. U.S. carriers operate 74 of them and 387 fly worldwide. China, Indonesia, Singapore and Australia have temporarily grounded the planes, along with numerous airlines around the world.

In the United States, the FAA has ordered no such grounding.

“External reports are drawing similarities between this accident and the Lion Air Flight 610 accident,” the FAA said in a statement. “However, this investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions.”

More: 3 questions don’t have answers following Boeing MAX 8 crash

The agency said, however, that it expects to require Boeing to complete Max 8 flight control system enhancements – prompted by the Lion Air crash – by month’s end.

The stakes for Boeing are high: Airlines have ordered 4,661 more of the planes — the newest version of the 737 and best-selling airliner ever. 

Southwest and American fly the plane, and both expressed confidence in their fleets. Southwest, which has 34 of the planes and is adding more, said on Twitter that the airline had flown 31,000 flights on 737 MAX planes and plans on “operating those aircraft going forward.”

There has been pushback however. Jim Hall, who headed the National Transportation Safety Board from 1994 to 2001, said Boeing and the FAA should ground the U.S. fleet. The crashes have raised safety concerns for thousands of the hot-selling planes on order around the globe, he said.

More: Boeing 737 Max: What you should know if you’re booked on a flight

The MAX 8 represents the newest generation of jets being manufactured and sold to many countries, thus it’s vital to find out what went wrong before too many of them are in the sky, Hall said.

More: Former NTSB chief: Hundreds of Boeing jets should be grounded

“If there’s anything systemic or related to the computer operations of the aircraft, it can be addressed,” Hall told USA TODAY. “That’s the prudent thing to do.”

U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also called for the FAA to ground the MAX 8.

The airline said the “black box” voice and data recorders had been found, so investigators are hoping to soon learn more details of the crash.

The plane was delivered to the airline in November, had flown only 1,200 hours and had undergone a “rigorous” maintenance check Feb. 4. The pilot, who had more than 8,000 hours of flight experience, had issued a distress call and was attempting to return to the airport.

Contributing: Bart Jansen and Kristin Lam

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: UK becomes latest country to ground Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after Ethiopian Airlines crash

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