Aviation

President Trump is the latest to question 737 Max, but U.S. airlines are still flying it

Southwest’s new Boeing 737 MAX

Southwest Airlines' showed off the new Boeing 737 MAX to employees on Friday. (September 23, 2016)
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Southwest Airlines' showed off the new Boeing 737 MAX to employees on Friday. (September 23, 2016)

The FAA and U.S.-based airlines are still backing the Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

But for how long?

By Tuesday morning, most of the world’s air travel markets had banned Boeing’s newest commercial aircraft model until more is known about what caused two fatal crashes, including one on Sunday that killed 157 people in Ethiopia.

For the time being, the 737 Max is no longer welcome at airports in Australia, China, Indonesia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Even President Trump seemed to contradict the Federal Aviation Administration’s endorsement of the 737 Max model when he tweeted on Tuesday morning: “Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly.”

Fort Worth-based American Airlines, which operates 24 of the 737 Max 8 aircraft, and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which has 34 of the planes, could ground the aircraft themselves without FAA action. But so far, it appears the airlines have no intention to do so.

“We have full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members, who are the best and most experienced in the industry,” American Airlines wrote on its twitter account, in a response to a tweet from Portugese model Sara Sampaio.

Sampaio had written on her Twitter feed that she was a “huge” American fan, but wished the airline would ground the 737 Max 8 until an investigation was complete.

American has a fleet of nearly 1,000 aircraft, mostly models built by Boeing and Airbus. The world’s largest airline likely would have only minor heartburn if it had to pull its 24 737 Max 8s out of service.

Southwest’s fleet is entirely made up of Boeing 737s — 754 of them — although only 34 are the newer 737 Max 8 model.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a statement hours after the Ethiopia Airlines crash saying the agency was “closely monitoring developments in the Ethiopian Flight 302 crash early this morning. We are in contact with the State Department and plan to join the NTSB in its assistance with Ethiopian civil aviation authorities to investigate the crash.”

FAA officials have had no further comment since Sunday. However, on Monday afternoon the agency issued a document known as a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community, explaining why the FAA believes the 737 Max aircraft is still safe.

In November, just days after the first 737 Max 8 crash killed 189 Lion Air passengers and crew in the Indonesia seas, the FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive directing U.S. operators to revise the airplane flight manual to provide the flight crew with runaway horizontal stabilizer trim procedures to follow under certain conditions.

The investigation of that Lion Air crash showed that the pilots were struggling with the 737 Max electronics, which repeatedly pointed the plane’s nose downward, while the pilots were trying to lift the nose.

A preliminary report on the Lion Air crash indicated that a malfunction of an aircraft sensor mistakenly thought the aircraft’s climb was at an incorrect angle and forced the plane to pitch downward, Meanwhile, the pilots struggled to keep the nose pointed upward.

Boeing officials have maintained that the aircraft manual provided flight crews with the information they would need to take manual control of the climb in the event of malfunction.

The company denied accusations that it didn’t provide customers buying the 737 Max aircraft with sufficient information about how it performed compared to previous airplane models.

On Tuesday, Boeing issued a statement saying the company had no plans to issue new guidance to operators.

“We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets,” the statement read. “We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets.”

On Monday night, Boeing disclosed in a separate statement that it was already developing a flight control software enhancement in the aftermath of the Lion Air Crash, and that the FAA would mandate the software by April.

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.

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