Will the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ground the Boeing 737 MAX at some point today? The agency is still holding out despite a slew of aviation regulators around the world grounding the controversial passenger aircraft. Most notably, late this afternoon the European Air Safety Agency (EASA) said it would be suspending all Boeing 737 MAX operations throughout Europe in what it called a necessary step to ensure the safety of passengers.
Earlier in the day, a growing list of countries and individual airlines said they would be grounding the 737 MAX aircraft – it’s become difficult to keep up with the whole list but at this time, we know that the 737 MAX is both grounded and banned from flying in or out of, as well as through the following countries:
Australia, China, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mongolia, Oman, and Singapore. The United Kingdom and Italy also banned the aircraft, although those directives have now been superseded by EASA’s owning decision to ban the 737 MAX across Europe (this list may not be exhaustive given how fast the situation is changing).
And yet both the aircraft manufacturer and the FAA say such drastic action isn’t necessary. Notable 737 MAX operators in the United States – American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United – have also stood behind Boeing and the FAA, so far refusing to suspend operations.
But pressure is mounting on them to finally relent and ground the aircraft type until further information is available.
“This is about public confidence in the safety of air travel,” explained Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) which represents thousands of flight attendants from a number of different airlines across the United States including United Airlines.
“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. Again, we caution everyone to not jump to conclusions and not interrupt the integrity of the investigations.”
Yesterday, the FAA issued a continued airworthiness certificate for the 737 MAX family of aircraft based on the promise of software upgrades from manufacturer Boeing that should address issues raised after the fatal Lion Air crash in October 2018. Boeing should have the upgrades available, along with additional training material by April.
“The FAA’s April deadline for updates is insufficient considering the legitimate fear and uncertainty following two deadly accidents involving this aircraft,” Nelson said of the news.
“The FAA must restore public confidence by grounding the 737 MAX until the required changes have been implemented and the public can be fully assured.”
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) which represents over 25,000 flight attendants at American Airlines said its members were very concerned and called on the airline’s chief executive, Doug Parker to immediately ground the planes pending further investigation.
“The safety of our crews and passengers is paramount. Our Flight Attendants will not be forced to fly if they feel unsafe,” the union said in a statement.
American Airlines is allowing flight attendants to refuse to fly on the 737 MAX if they don’t feel safe, although staffers face losing out on earnings and may even be reprimanded if they refuse a 737 MAX duty on more than two occasions.
Southwest Airlines has faced criticism for refusing to refund or rebook customers who don’t want to fly on the 737 MAX although there are rumors that the airline is working with individual customers when they get in contact. In an emailed statement, Southwest told us:
“As the investigation of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 progresses, we are staying in close contact with Boeing, the FAA, and other airlines to learn the cause of the accident. We operate 34 MAX 8 aircraft in our fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737s. We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of the MAX 8. We don’t have any changes planned to our MAX 8 operations.
Additionally, we are not issuing refunds of non-refundable fares though we are working with Customers individually who wish to rebook their flight to another aircraft type.”
Southwest currently has 34 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, American Airlines has 26 and United Airlines has 16 of the MAX 9 variant.
Boeing says it continues to “have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX” but understands why some regulators and operators are making decisions that are “most appropriate for their home markets”.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.