U.S. Airlines Keep Flying Their 737 MAX 8s As Others Ground Them (Updated)
Fallout from the weekend crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 continues as numerous airlines have grounded their 737 MAX 8 fleets. In the U.S., however, both Southwest and American Airlines announced today that they will continue to operate their 737 MAX 8s.
UPDATE: By Tuesday afternoon March 12, the European Union effectively grounded the 737 MAX 8 by suspending all flight operations. This comes after Australia and Singapore initially banned flights of the MAX while additional airlines, including Aero Mexico and Norwegian, have temporarily grounded their fleets. The New York Times is reporting that with the EU prohibition "nearly two thirds of the 737 MAX aircraft in the world had been pulled from use."
The National Transportation Safety Board is set to have investigators on scene by Tuesday, while both the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder have reportedly been recovered.
Southwest is the largest user of the MAX, with 34 aircraft; American has 24 in service. Air Canada, which has not grounded its fleet, also has 24 in service.
Southwest issued a statement on Monday saying, ”As Southwest operates a fleet of 34 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, we have been in contact with Boeing and will continue to stay close to the investigation as it progresses.” It's worth noting that the 737 MAX 8 is relatively small part of Southwest's 754-airplane fleet.
American Airlines also issued a statement saying that "at this time there are no facts on the cause of the accident other than news reports. We have full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members, who are the best and most experienced in the industry."
Boeing has issued a statement as well, saying, “Safety is our number one priority and we are taking every measure to fully understand all aspects of this accident, working closely with the investigating team and all regulatory authorities involved. The investigation is in its early stages, but at this point, based on the information available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”
At this time, the FAA has not indicated that it will force grounding of the 737.
While the investigation is expected to focus on the MAX’s automated trim system, the experience level of the copilot will no doubt be under the microscope. According to reports, the captain, Yared Getachew, was 29 years old with 8000 hours, but the first officer had just 200 hours. At this stage, it is not clear if this is total time or time in type.