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U.S. last major nation flying Max 8 planes

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A Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed in Ethiopia killing everyone on board. The crash of the Ethiopian Airlines plane marks the second deadliest accident involving a Boeing 737 in the past five months. So is there a problem with this particular model?
USA TODAY

The U.S. was the last major nation flying Boeing 737 Max 8 planes on Wednesday as the aircraft-manufacturing giant and the Federal Aviation Administration steadfastly defended the safety of the hot-selling jetliners.

Canada joined the vast majority of the world Wednesday in closing its airspace to the planes.

Two of the jets have crashed in the last five months, killing more than 300 people. Thailand, Egypt and Lebanon were among countries banning the planes from their airspace Wednesday, joining a long list of nations that includes the entire European Union.

The stakes are high: Airlines have ordered 4,661 more of the planes – the newest version of the 737 and best-selling airliner ever. The Boeing 737 MAX fleet already includes 74 flown by domestic carriers, among almost 400 worldwide. 

Norwegian Air Shuttles spokeswoman Tonje Naess said the carrier, which flies 18 of the planes, will seek compensation from Boeing for “any financial burden for a brand new aircraft that will not to be used.” It was not immediately clear what those costs might be or what Boeing might be pressed to pay.

In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration stood by the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX on Tuesday, saying it hasn’t found any issues at fault with the jetliner that would merit a grounding order.

Acting FAA Administrator Daniel K. Elwell said his agency continues to investigate the aircraft and will “take immediate and appropriate action” if issues emerge. Boeing stressed its “full confidence in the safety” of the planes. 

Records show that federal aviation authorities received at least 11 reports concerning perceived safety problems with the aircraft. Two pilots reported their planes unexpectedly pitched nose down after engaging autopilot following departure. Another pilot reported a “temporary level off” triggered by the aircraft automation.

The captain of a November 2018 flight called part of the aircraft’s flight manual “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient.”

From the flight manual: Why pilots have complained about the 737 MAX 8

In the U.S., Southwest and American fly the plane, and both expressed confidence in their fleets.

The MAX 8 that crashed Sunday was 4 months old and minutes into a Nairobi-bound flight from Addis Ababa on Sunday when it nosedived into a field. In October, a Lion Air plane of the same model crashed into the Java Sea – 12 minutes after departing from the airport in Jakarta, Indonesia. None of the 189 passengers and crew survived.

Both flights crashed following drastic speed fluctuations during ascent. Both pilots made ill-fated efforts to to return to their airport of origin after takeoff. The FAA said it expects to require Boeing to complete MAX 8 flight control system enhancements – prompted by the Lion Air crash – by month’s end.

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In the U.S., the union representing flight attendants on Southwest Airlines, which flies 34 of the planes, said the planes should be grounded. The Association of Flight Attendants, which says it has nearly 50,000 members and is part of the Communications Workers of America, called for grounding the planes.  

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, urged the FAA to halt the planes “out of an abundance of caution for the flying public” until safety can be assured. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also called for the FAA to ground the MAX 8.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in joining the growing chorus, said he would hold a hearing into the causes of the crashes as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation and Space.

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If you’re booked on a Boeing 737 Max should you should switch planes?
USA TODAY

The plane was delivered to the airline in November, had flown 1,200 hours and had undergone a maintenance check Feb. 4. The pilot, who had more than 8,000 hours of flight experience, had issued a distress call and tried to return to the airport.

The “black box” voice and data recorders were found, raising hopes that investigators would soon learn more details of the crash. Airline CEO Tewolde GebreMariam told CNN the pilots told air traffic control they were having “flight control problems” before the crash. 

Contributing: Bart Jansen, Gus Garcia-Roberts, Steve Reilly and Alison Young; The Associated Press

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