Live Briefing: Ethiopian Airlines Crash Updates: E.U. Suspends Boeing Max Operations, but F.A.A. Stands Firm
• Pressure escalated inside the United States for a grounding of the Boeing 737 Max model that has crashed twice in the past six months. But the Federal Aviation Administration reiterated its position that the plane is considered safe and that it has “no basis to order grounding the aircraft.”
• The European Union suspended “all flight operations” of the Boeing 737 Max model in question. The action came as more than a half-dozen other countries grounded the plane, and was the most sweeping regulatory action taken so far in the two days since the crash of a Max 8 that killed 157 people on a flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Nairobi, Kenya.
• President Trump had a telephone conversation with the chief executive of Boeing, who made the case that the 737 Max 8 should not be grounded in the United States, according to two people briefed on the conversation.
• Mr. Trump also said on Twitter that commercial airplanes had become overly technical, but said nothing about the Boeing Max.
• At least 34 airlines have now grounded the Max 8, which means roughly two-thirds of the Max 8 planes in operation are now idled. The major outliers are Southwest and American in the United States, and Air Canada.
• Boeing stands by the airworthiness of the plane, but said it planned to issue a software update and was working on changes to flight controls and training guidelines following the first crash, of a Lion Air flight in Indonesia last October.
[Read about how the airplane maker is dealing with the fallout from the crash.]
• Boeing’s stock price, which fell 5 percent on Monday, fell 6 percent on Tuesday.
• Investigators from the United States and elsewhere are at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Much of the investigation will focus on the voice and data recorders recovered on Monday. The airline’s chief executive, interviewed by CNN, said the pilots had told air traffic control they were having “flight control problems.”
E.U. issues comprehensive ban
The European Union’s aviation regulatory agency barred flights of the Max 8, as well as a slightly newer model, the Max 9, joining several other regulators around the world.
The action, which includes all flights over European Union territory, came as India, France, Germany, Britain, Ireland, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Oman joined China and Indonesia in suspending all use of the plane.
The European Union regulator, known as EASA, said the action included the suspension of “all commercial flights performed by third-country operators into, within or out of the E.U.” of the Max 8 and Max 9.
The decision could disrupt travel not only through the heart of Europe but well beyond, as many commercial flight routes go over European Union territory. Still, the extent of the disruption is unclear.
Airlines and passengers will be affected as companies scramble to ensure that passengers can still get to their destinations, but the impact will depend on how much of their fleets are made up of the grounded planes, said Andrew Charlton, the managing director at Aviation Advocacy, an air transport consultancy based in Switzerland.
By Wednesday morning, the groundings spread. Fiji Airways said it had grounded all of its Max 8 planes and would try to accommodate passengers using other aircraft.
New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority said Wednesday it had banned the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes from its airspace, citing uncertainty about the cause of the Ethiopian Airlines crash. The grounding affected only one airline, Fiji, which had its next New Zealand flight scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
U.S. and Canadian Airlines Becoming the Outliers
Two United States airlines fly the 737 Max 8: Southwest has 34 and American 24. Both have said they have analyzed data from their thousands of flights with the planes and found no reason to ground them.
“We don’t have any changes planned,” Southwest said in a statement. “We have full confidence in the aircraft,” American said. Air Canada, which operates 24 Max 8s, has given no indication it intends to ground them.
American Airlines, however, has faced growing pressure from its flight attendants union to temporarily ground the planes. Lori Bassani, the president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said members were calling on the airline’s chief executive, Doug Parker, to “strongly consider grounding these planes until a thorough investigation can be performed.”
While she did not say flight attendants would refuse to fly on the Max 8, “our flight attendants will not be forced to fly if they feel unsafe.”
Adding to the pressure for action in the United States, at least three senators joined the call for grounding the plane. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, and Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s aviation subcommittee, called on the F.A.A. to ground the aircraft while the cause of the Ethiopian crash is investigated.
Nonetheless the F.A.A.’s acting administrator, Daniel K. Elwell, said in a statement late Tuesday that based on all available data, there was “no basis” to ground the plane. “Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action,” he said.
Pilots reported ‘flight control problems,’ airline C.E.O. says
The pilots of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 reported to air traffic control that they were having “flight control problems” in the moments before the crash, the airline’s chief executive was quoted as saying in an interview with CNN.
The quoted remarks from the chief executive, Tewolde GebreMariam, suggested the plane had not responded to actions by the pilots.
Mr. GebreMariam was also quoted as saying the black boxes recovered from the wreckage “will be sent overseas” and not analyzed in Ethiopia. He did not specify where they would be taken.
Trump speaks to Boeing C.E.O., who urges no grounding
On Tuesday morning, Dennis A. Muilenburg, the chief executive of Boeing, spoke to President Trump on the phone and argued that the Max should not be grounded in the United States, according to two people briefed on the conversation. A Boeing official said that during the call with the president, “Dennis reiterated our position that the Max is a safe aircraft.”
Mr. Muilenburg has worked to cultivate a relationship with the president, but it has sometimes been an uneasy one.
Shortly after becoming president-elect, Mr. Trump assailed Boeing for the estimated cost of its program to build new Air Force One planes, which provide mobile command centers for the president.
The “costs are out of control, more than $ 4 billion. Cancel order!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter a month after winning the election. A couple of weeks later, Mr. Muilenburg visited Mr. Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., to try to smooth things over.
“It was a terrific conversation,” Mr. Muilenburg told reporters after the meeting, explaining that he had given Mr. Trump “my personal commitment” that Boeing would build new Air Force One planes for less than the $ 4 billion estimate. Weeks afterward, Boeing donated $ 1 million to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee. The company had donated the same amount to help fund President Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration.
Mr. Trump also publicly lamented on Tuesday what he described as excessive technology that has overtaken modern commercial jet travel and made it, in his view, more dangerous.
Without specifying Boeing or the Max 8, Mr. Trump said aircraft had become “far too complex to fly,” and recalled approvingly the era when pilots had total control in the cockpit.
“Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger,” Mr. Trump said in a pair of postings on Twitter. “All 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!”
Pilots and aviation experts have said repeatedly that flying is now safer than it has ever been.
Boeing plans changes to plane’s control systems
Boeing is negotiating with the Federal Aviation Administration over improvements to its 737 Max 8 after the aircraft’s second crash in five months, though both the government and company insist the plane is safe to fly as is.
Since October, when a Max 8 belonging to the budget airline Lion Air crashed in Indonesia soon after takeoff, killing all 189 people on board, Boeing has been working on changes to the flight control systems of the aircraft. The company has also been updating its training guidelines and manuals so that airlines can teach their pilots to fly the planes more safely and easily.
After the crash of Lion Air Flight 610, concerns arose about the aircraft’s flight control systems. The main changes now being developed to those systems include limiting how much the plane’s computers can automatically pull down the nose of the plane if sensors detect a stall.
The concern after the Lion Air crash was that erroneous readings from poorly maintained sensors in the nose of the plane might have fooled the automatic systems into falsely concluding that the plane was traveling sharply upward and in danger of stalling. The automatic systems may then have forced the nose down significantly, sending the plane into a steep dive into the ocean.
Boeing issued a statement late Monday saying that since the Lion Air crash, the company had been developing a “flight control software enhancement for the 737 Max, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer.” According to the company, it has been working with the F.A.A. to roll out the software updates across the 737 Max fleet in the coming weeks.
Among U.S. victims, a newlywed Ethiopian immigrant
A naturalized newlywed from Ethiopia, a health analyst headed to her first international project, and two brothers on vacation were among at least eight Americans on Flight 302.
The immigrant, Mucaad Hussein Abdalla, 31, a truck driver in St. Cloud, Minn., had just been married in Morocco; his wife, though, was not on the flight, according to Mr. Abdalla’s cousin, Mohamed Warfa. “He loved to play soccer in his free time, and he had many friends in this community,” Mr. Warfa said.
Mr. Abdalla came to the United States from Ethiopia as a teenager, gained citizenship and supported his mother, brother and sister, who live in Ethiopia, said Mr. Warfa, 29, who created a GoFundMe page to help pay for the funeral.
Samya Stumo, 24, of Sheffield, Mass., was a recent graduate of the University of Copenhagen School of Global Health, who had just begun a job at ThinkWell, a nongovernmental organization that promotes access to health care in developing countries. “Samya was in her early 20s and had already done more than I did when I was 34,” her grandmother Laura Nader, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, told The Boston Globe.
Melvin Riffel, 30, and Bennett Riffel, 26, were on a vacation that included a stop in Australia. It was intended to be the last escapade before Melvin became a father. His wife, Brittney, is expecting a child in May.
Melvin worked at the California Department of Transportation. “He was a dedicated civil servant who worked for Caltrans for nearly a decade, and our deepest sympathy and condolences go out to his family, friends and colleagues,” said the Caltrans director, Laurie Berman.
Matt Vecere, 43, of Long Beach, Calif., was en route to the United Nations Environment Assembly this week in Nairobi. “Matt was passionate about the environment, civil rights, social and environmental justice, and advocating for those less fortunate,” his mother, Donna Vecere, said in a statement. Mr. Vecere had recently been in Haiti, where he had made several trips after the 2010 earthquake.
Three generations of one Canadian family were also onboard the flight and were among the 18 Canadians killed in the disaster.
“I am not angry, but I am devastated, I have lost everyone,” said Manant Vaidya, 41, whose parents, sister, brother-in-law and two teenage nieces all died in the crash.
Boeing stock price takes another hit
Share prices of Boeing, a major component of the Dow Jones industrial average, fell 6.1 percent during trading on Tuesday, following a similar decline Monday on worries about the spreading impact of the Max 8 crash in Ethiopia and the prognosis for future sales of the plane.
Discovery of black boxes first step to revealing their data
The flight data and cockpit voice recorders of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 were recovered on Monday, but the process of extracting the data contained within the so-called black boxes could be lengthy, experts cautioned.
The two recorders will need to be taken to a specialized center to read their data, said Lynnette Dray, an aviation expert and senior research associate at University College London.