The Federal Aviation Administration has said there is ‘no basis’ to ground Boeing 737 Max airplanes, after a second deadly crash involving the model in less than five months prompted other governments worldwide to ban the aircraft.
‘Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft,’ FAA chief Daniel Elwell said in a statement on Tuesday.
Despite Boeing’s assurances that the plane is safe and reliable, the European Union, Britain and India joined China and other countries grounding the plane or banning it from their airspace as they await the results of the investigation into the crash.
But the US has so far refused to take similar action against the American aerospace giant’s best-selling workhorse aircraft, despite the two recent crashes as well as a history of pilot complaints in recent months.
Workers are pictured next to a Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplane on the tarmac at the Boeing Renton Factory in Renton, Washington on Tuesday. The US said there is ‘no basis’ to ground Boeing 737 MAX airplanes, after a second deadly crash involving the model in less than five months
Airline pilots on at least two U.S. flights have reported that an automated system seemed to cause their Boeing 737 Max planes to tilt down suddenly.
The pilots said that soon after engaging the autopilot on Boeing 737 Max 8 planes, the nose tilted down sharply. In both cases, they recovered quickly after disconnecting the autopilot.
As described by the pilots, however, the problem did not appear related to a new automated anti-stall system that is suspected of contributing to a deadly October crash in Indonesia.
The Max 8 is at the center of a growing global ban by more than 40 countries following a second fatal crash, this time in Ethiopia, in less than five months. In the U.S., however, the Federal Aviation Administration and airlines continued to permit the planes to fly.
American Airlines and Southwest Airlines operate the 737 Max 8, and United Airlines flies a slightly larger version, the Max 9. All three carriers vouched for the safety of Max aircraft on Wednesday
The pilot reports were filed last year in a data base compiled by NASA. They are voluntary safety reports and do not publicly reveal the names of pilots, the airlines or the location of the incidents.
An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8, on a flight from Miami to New York City, comes in for landing at LaGuardia Airport in New York on Tuesday
It was unclear whether the accounts led to any actions by the FAA or the pilots’ airlines.
In one report, an airline captain said that immediately after putting the plane on autopilot, the co-pilot called out ‘Descending,’ followed by an audio cockpit warning, ‘Don’t sink, don’t sink!’
The captain immediately disconnected the autopilot and resumed climbing.
‘With the concerns with the MAX 8 nose down stuff, we both thought it appropriate to bring it to your attention,’ the captain wrote. ‘Best guess from me is airspeed fluctuation’ due to a brief weather system overwhelming the plane’s automation.
On another flight, the co-pilot said that seconds after engaging the autopilot, the nose pitched downward and the plane began descending at 1,200 to 1,500 feet per minute. As in the other flight, the plane’s low-altitude-warning system issued an audio warning. The captain disconnected autopilot, and the plane began to climb.
The pilots talked it over later, ‘but can’t think of any reason the aircraft would pitch nose down so aggressively,’ the co-pilot recounted.
Preliminary information released by Indonesian investigators suggests they are looking at the possible role of the Max’s new automated anti-stall technology as a factor in a Lion Air crash in October shortly after takeoff from Jakarta. Data indicates that the pilots struggled with repeated nose-down commands from the plane before it crashed into the Java Sea and killed 189 people.
However, that anti-stall system – called MCAS for its acronym – only activates if the autopilot is turned off, according to documents Boeing has shared with airlines and the FAA.
‘That’s not to say it’s not a problem, but it is not the MCAS,’ said Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot who received additional training on the Boeing anti-stall system after the Lion Air crash. ‘The autopilot has to be off for MCAS to kick in.’
American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said the airline has received no reports from pilots about problems with the anti-stall technology. Southwest has said the same thing.
Concern about the Max’s safety seemed to be abating but returned on Sunday when an Ethiopian Airlines Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board. Again, preliminary data appears to capture a brief and erratic flight. Investigators will analyze information from the planes so-called black boxes in hopes of understanding what caused the accident.
A man searching for personal effects belonging to his brother who was a passenger on ET 302 speaks to a journalist and Recovery worker at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 on Tuesday in Bishoftu, Ethiopia. All 157 passengers and crew perished in the crash
That followed the October crash of a new Lion Air jet of the same model in Indonesia, which killed 189 people shortly after takeoff from Jakarta.
The widening actions against the aircraft puts pressure on Boeing — the world’s biggest plane manufacturer — to prove the MAX planes are safe, and the company has said it is rolling out flight software updates by April that could address issues with a faulty sensor.
The full extent of the impact of the aircraft bans on international travel routes was unclear. There are about 350 MAX 8 planes currently in service around the world.
Southwest Airlines Co, American Airlines Group Inc and United Airlines said they were still confident in their fleets. Southwest and American have both said their fleet data showed the plane was safe.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao flew aboard a Southwest 737 MAX 8 on Tuesday to Washington from Austin, according to two people briefed on the matter. A spokesman for Chao did not immediately comment.
However airlines and governments around the world have begun taking action to ground the planes.
Air Canada, for example, announced it was canceling flights to London following Britain’s decision to ban the aircraft.
The EU aviation safety agency also closed European airspace to all MAX planes.
It noted that the ‘exact causes’ of the Lion Air crash were still being investigated.
‘At this early stage of the related investigation, it cannot be excluded that similar causes may have contributed to both events,’ the agency added.