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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 March 2019

Which airlines have grounded the Boeing 737 Max after Ethiopian Airlines crash?

Airlines switch to other planes to minimise disruptions to their flight schedules

Countries such as the UK and Australia have grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 planes or are banning it from their airspace, threatening to disrupt global travel and forcing airlines to adjust their operations. The decisions isolate the US regulator that has reiterated its support for the jet.

Boeing's biggest crisis since the issue with its 787 Dreamliner battery has weighed on the company stock price, which extended to a one-week loss. Shares of the US plane maker plunged about 6 per cent on Tuesday.

Boeing's chief executive Dennis Muilenburg, in a call with US President Donald Trump on Tuesday, defended the aircraft's safety and assured him it did not need to be grounded, according to reports by Reuters and Bloomberg.

The US remains an outlier in supporting the embattled aircraft, prompting a group of US officials to question the Federal Aviation Authority's decision to support Boeing's jet.

The plane maker said that since the FAA is not mandating further action, it does not plan to issue new guidance to operators based on information available.

The UAE, Lebanon, European Union and India are the latest in a growing list of more than 40 countries to block Boeing's best-selling plane from their airspace. The countries opted for caution after the second deadly accident involving the jet in five months, as investigators probe why an Ethiopian Airlines' 737 plane crashed minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa on Sunday. Other countries including Hong Kong, Turkey, Thailand also grounded their 737 Max jets on Wednesday.

"We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets," Boeing said in a statement on Tuesday. "We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets."

The UAE's aviation regulator said on Tuesday it will ban the 737 Max 8 from the country's airspace on Wednesday past midnight, until further notice.

"The ban is a precautionary measure aimed toward protecting public safety in the air and on the ground," the General Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement. "The GCAA will continue monitoring and re-assessing the situation as more information is obtained about the accident."

The decision bans the jet from a global air travel hub and popular transit point for long-haul passengers, including Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest hub by international travelers.

Low-cost airline flydubai, the UAE's sole operator of the 737 Max 8 and the manufacturer's second-biggest customer after Southwest Airlines, grounded its fleet of 11 737 Max 8 and two of the larger variant 737 Max 9 following the directive.

The airline will adjust by operating its 737-800 jets, the predecessor of the 737 Max, instead and will cancel up to 15 flights a day, with frequencies reduced on destinations including Amman, Beirut, Baghdad and Kuwait among others.

"Flydubai is adjusting its schedule to minimise disruption to passengers," it said. "Where there are flight cancellations flydubai will contact passengers directly. Flydubai continues to be in touch with the manufacturer and regulator."

While airlines are adjusting their operations, Boeing may face claims for compensation from those affected by the groundings of the 737 Max.

Norwegian Air, which suspended operations of the 18 narrow-body 737 Max in its fleet, will seek compensation from the jet maker for lost revenue and extra costs, reported Reuters.

Global groundings of the jet come amid an intensifying crisis of confidence in the aircraft that was also involved in Indonesia's Lion Air crash in October, which remains under investigation.

Pilots in the US complained at least five times in recent months about problems controlling their 737 Max 8 planes during critical moments of flight, federal records show, Politico reported.

Some of the incidents appear to involve the same anti-stall system that could be the potential cause of Lion Air's crash, according to Politico's review of a FAA incident database where pilots directly report issues.

The crash of Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines' 737 Max 8 killed all 157 travellers on-board, highlighting similarities with the Lion Air disaster and raising fresh questions about the safety of the plane model.

Investigators in Ethiopia found two black box recorders that will provide information about what happened before the plane plunged into farmland minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia will send the black box from the Boeing jet to Europe for analysis, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing an interview with Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam. It is considering UK, French and German agencies as well as EU Aviation Safety Agency.

Updated: March 13, 2019 06:16 PM

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