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EU closes European airspace to Boeing 737 MAX

Joe Raedle/Getty Images/ AFP | File photo of a Boeing 737 Max 8

The EU said on Tuesday it was closing European airspace to the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft after two fatal crashes within five months. The move came hours after France, Germany and other major countries closed their airspace to the aircraft.

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The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a directive “to suspend all flight operations” of the Boeing 737 MAX models following the deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday, which came months after a Lion Air plane crash in Indonesia.

The EASA said it was "suspending all flight operations of all Boeing Model 737-8 MAX and 737-9 MAX airplanes in Europe".

While noting that the "exact causes" of the 737 MAX aircraft operated by Lion Air were still being investigated, the EASA said that, "Since that action, another fatal accident occurred," referring to Sunday's Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people.

"At this early stage of the investigation, it cannot be excluded that similar causes may have contributed to both events," the agency said. "Based on all available information, EASA considers that further actions may be necessary to ensure the continued airworthiness of the two affected models."

The EASA decision came shortly after France joined a growing number of countries to ground or close airspace to the new Boeing plane.

"Given the circumstances of the accident in Ethiopia, the French authorities have taken the decision, as a precautionary measure, to ban all commercial flights of Boeing 737 MAXs into, out of, or over French territory," the French civil aviation authority, DGAC, said in a statement.

Global air travel hub Singapore, as well as Australia, Malaysia and Oman, are among the other countries to ban all MAX planes from their airspace.

China, a hugely important market for Boeing, has ordered domestic airlines to suspend operations of the plane.

India also joined the list of countries to ban the jet Tuesday, a day after saying it had imposed additional interim safety requirements for ground engineers and crew for the aircraft.

New Zealand has also temporarily banned the aircraft from its airspace and Turkish Airlines, one of the largest carriers in the world, said it was suspending use of its 12 MAX aircraft from Wednesday, until "uncertainty" was clarified.

US says 'no basis' to ground jet

In the US, however, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has refused to take similar action, despite pressure from lawmakers.

"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.

Earlier, Senators Mitt Romney and Elizabeth Warren had called for the FAA to follow the lead of other nations and airlines and temporarily ground Boeing's737 MAX.

"Out of an abundance of caution for the flying public, the FAA should ground the 737 MAX 8 until we investigate the causes of recent crashes and ensure the plane's airworthiness," Romney said in a tweet.

Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, said the FAA should "immediately ground this plane in the United States until its safety can be assured."

She also called on Congress to review the decision. "The Boeing 737 MAX 8 is a major driver of Boeing profits. In the coming weeks and months, Congress should hold hearings on whether an administration that famously refused to stand up to Saudi Arabia to protect Boeing arms sales has once again put lives at risk for the same reason," Warren said in a statement released by her campaign, not her Senate office.

Boeing expresses ‘full confidence’ in plane

Boeing in a statement on Tuesday did not directly address the senators' comments but said it has "full confidence in the safety of the MAX" and noted the FAA has not mandated "any further action at this time".

The company added that it understood that, "regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets."

The FAA told international carriers on Monday that while there was no need to ground the plane, by April it would mandate a software upgrade and training changes that Boeing confirmed it will roll out in the coming weeks.

Trump wades into discussion with no decision

US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told reporters on Monday that regulators would not hesitate to act if they find a safety issue.

"If the FAA identifies an issue that affects safety, the department will take immediate and appropriate action," Chao said. "I want people to be assured that we take these incidents, these accidents very seriously."

US President Donald Trump, who has been briefed on the Ethiopian Airlines crash according to administration officials, on Tuesday tweeted that "Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT."

He added "complexity creates danger. All of 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!"

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether Trump was referring to a specific airplane.

(FRANCE 24 with, AFP, AP, REUTERS)

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