The European Union became the latest and most significant entity to close its borders to the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft today in the growing fallout of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 602 out of Addis Ababa last week.
EU Follows China, Australia, and Others in Closing Airspace
The EU announced that they would be closing their airspace to Boeing 737 MAX 8s while the cause of last week’s crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 602 is investigated.
“As a precautionary measure, EASA has published today an Airworthiness Directive,” the announcement read, “effective as of 19:00 UTC, suspending all flight operations of all Boeing Model 737-8 MAX and 737-9 MAX aeroplanes in Europe."
"In addition EASA has published a Safety Directive, effective as of 19:00 UTC, suspending all commercial flights performed by third-country operators into, within or out of the EU of the above mentioned models.”
The step came after several EU countries banned the Boeing aircraft from their airspace, following China, Australia, and many other nations around the world who are grounding the model aircraft that has crashed twice in just six months.
US Still Flying Boeing 737 MAX 8s
Despite calls from some Senators this afternoon, the US hasn’t grounded its Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News today that the US wouldn’t be grounding its fleet of Boeing 737 MAX 8’s because it’s too “early in the process.”
Meanwhile, Senator Sidney Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has sent a letter American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines CEOs asking that they ground their 737 MAX 8s as a “common sense step” while the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) continues to investigate the crash.
Meanwhile, Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have come out urging the FAA to ground the all 737 MAX 8s. President Donald Trump complained this morning on Twitter that “airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly…the complexity creates danger. ... I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot.”
Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT. I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better. Split second decisions are....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2019
....needed, and the complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost yet very little gain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2019
After Trump’s tweet, President Trump spoke to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who stressed to the president that the plane was safe and pleaded with the President not to order the grounding of US-based 737 MAX 8s.
Airline Unions Speaking Out
Soon, it may not be their decision. Today, the flight attendant’s union for American Airline’s crewmembers, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), has come out and told its members that they would not be forced to fly on Boeing 737 MAX 8s.
"Our flight attendants are very concerned with the recent Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash, which has raised safety concerns with the 737 MAX 8," said APFA's Lori Bassani. "Many respected global carriers are grounding the planes."
The Transport Workers Union of America, which counts aircraft mechanics and baggage handlers—as well as flight attendants—among its 150,000 members, tweeted out a statement calling for the grounding of the aircraft.
In an abundance of caution, the 737 Max should be grounded until both the data and voice recorders of the recent flight have been reviewed and a determination of the two accidents using this type of aircraft have been determined. People must always be put over profits. @FAANews— TWU (@transportworker) March 12, 2019
If this trend continues to other unions—especially the pilot’s unions—airlines may have no choice but to ground the planes regardless of what the Trump administration does.
As of now, the US and Canadian airlines are the last major operators of the 737 MAX 8 aircraft in the world.
Boeing Insists the 737 MAX 8 is Safe
After the second crash of the 737 MAX 8 in less than half a year, Boeing insists that its aircraft are still airworthy and hasn’t issued any new guidance for airlines. Some see this as a mistake for the company.
"Not grounding the jets puts Boeing in a very bad light," said Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general for the US Transportation Department and a CNN aviation analyst. By not ordering the grounding of the aircraft, events outside of Boeing's control will determine the future of the aircraft.
"Airlines and countries all over the world are saying this is ridiculous," she added.
The cost of grounding the more than 300 planes in service around the world could cost billions of dollars, but for a company that made $10 billion in profits last year on over $100 billion in revenues, it seems a small price to pay.
"The best time to have [grounded the aircraft] was immediately following the Ethiopian Airlines crash," said GlobalData analyst Nick Wyatt. "I think now they're concerned they could be seen as wavering from the stance that the aircraft is safe. I don't think they can win either way here."
For its part, Boeing is continuing to resist calls to ground its planes. "Safety is Boeing's number one priority and we have full confidence in the safety of the MAX," read a statement from the company, issued on Tuesday.
"We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets. It is also important to note that the Federal Aviation Administration is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators."