The European Union on Tuesday suspended all flights into and out of its member states of Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) 737 MAX family aircraft. Earlier in the day, the United Kingdom, Germany and France had suspended the planes, lending the weight of 25 additional countries to flight bans of the 737 MAX.
Ethiopia, Indonesia, China, Singapore, Australia, and Malaysia had already banned 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 flights following Sunday’s crash near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that killed all 157 people aboard a 737 MAX 8 just six minutes after takeoff. The incident occurred just four months after a similar aircraft crashed in Indonesia killing all 189 people on board.
The Indonesian crash is still being investigated but an issue identified early in the investigation is related to the plane’s stall-prevention system that could, in some circumstances, fail to respond to pilot control. News reports usually refer to this as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a fix for the problem late Monday and Boeing will begin installing the fix next month.
There is no evidence yet reported that Sunday’s crash was due to the same problem, but the similarities to the Lion Air crash late last October are hard to dismiss. The Ethiopian plane’s data recorders have been recovered and are being reviewed according to officials.
In its announcement of the ban, the EU’s Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said:
As a precautionary measure, EASA has published today an Airworthiness Directive, effective as of 19:00 UTC (3:00 p.m. ET), suspending all flight operations of all Boeing Model 737-8 MAX and 737-9 MAX aeroplanes in Europe. In addition EASA has published a Safety Directive, effective as of 19:00 UTC, suspending all commercial flights performed by third-country operators into, within or out of the EU of the above mentioned models.
EASA noted that it is analyzing new data from the Ethiopian crash as it becomes available and that “it is too early to draw any conclusions as to the cause of the accident.”
That still does not answer the question, “What, if more than three dozen countries have grounded all flights of the MAX 8, is the United States waiting for?” In its Airworthiness Directive issued Monday, the FAA said that Boeing has completed “flight control system enhancements” and that the agency expects to issue a mandate for these changes in April.
Grounding all 74 U.S.-registered 737 MAX family aircraft currently in service does not seem like “regulatory overreach.” For some reason, the FAA appears willing to gamble when other international regulatory bodies are not.