- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Europe joined a growing list of nations and airlines Tuesday to ground flights of Boeing 737 Max jets after a deadly crash in Ethiopia, as President Trump, an avid promoter of the American aerospace giant, worried aloud that high-tech planes “are becoming far too complex to fly.”

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency issued an “airworthiness directive” suspending the Boeing airliner from European airspace. The agency said it was taking “every necessary step to ensure the safety of passengers” after the jet crashed twice since October, killing more than 300 people.

The move by the EU and more than 10 other jurisdictions to suspend the jetliner put more pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration to ground flights. The U.S. agency, despite calls from lawmakers to ground the plane pending investigations, said Tuesday evening that it would not.

“Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft. Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data that would warrant action,” acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell said in a statement.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican and chairman of a Senate subcommittee on aviation and space, urged the agency to suspend operations of the 737 Max “until the FAA confirms the safety of these aircraft and their passengers.”

“Further investigation may reveal that mechanical issues were not the cause, but until that time, our first priority must be the safety of the flying public,” said Mr. Cruz, adding that he will hold a hearing on the cause of the crashes.

Other lawmakers, including Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Dianne Feinstein of California and Utah Republican Mitt Romney, called for a grounding.

The plane should be grounded until “we investigate the causes of recent crashes and ensure the plane’s airworthiness,” Mr. Romney tweeted.

The FAA has been without a permanent administrator since January 2018. Mr. Elwell has been serving in an acting capacity.

Some U.S. airlines expressed support for the Boeing model, and American and Southwest airlines continued flying them. A vice president for American, the world’s biggest carrier, which has 24 Max 8s, said the company had “full confidence in the aircraft.”

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents more than 26,000 flight attendants at American Airlines, called on CEO Doug Parker to “strongly consider grounding these planes until an investigation can be performed.”

Britain, Germany, France, Australia, China, Mexico and other nations have suspended the Boeing jet since the Sunday crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight in clear weather killed all 157 people aboard. In October, a 737 Max 8 flown by Lion Air crashed shortly after takeoff in Indonesia, killing all 189 people.

Investigators of the Indonesian air disaster have focused on a software system designed to push the plane’s nose downward if sensors detect a stall. Boeing said it will update the software by the end of April.

The Chicago aircraft manufacturer’s stock value has dropped more than 10 percent since Sunday’s crash. Boeing said its plane is safe.

“Safety is Boeing’s number one priority and we have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX,” the company said in a statement. “We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets. We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”

The crisis for the iconic American manufacturer, which has 150,000 employees, puts Mr. Trump in an awkward position. Since taking office, the president has served as a virtual salesman in chief for Boeing, promoting its aircraft in a series of trade deals.

During a summit two weeks ago with North Korea in Vietnam, Mr. Trump announced the sale of 100 Boeing 737 Max planes to VietJet Air for $12.7 billion and 10 787-9 Dreamliners worth about $3 billion.

Without mentioning Boeing by name, the president tweeted Tuesday that modern aircraft are becoming too difficult to fly.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!”

The president suggested that too much technology in the cockpit is dangerous, although he didn’t cite the basis for his views.

“Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “All of this for great cost yet very little gain.

“Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT,” he lamented. “I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better.”

Mr. Trump spoke by phone Tuesday with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who assured him the aircraft was safe.

At the charred disaster site in Ethiopia, airline officials said it would take at least five days to start giving remains to families. The victims came from 35 nations, including the U.S., and included nearly two dozen U.N. staff members.

“We are Muslim and have to bury our deceased immediately,” Noordin Mohamed, a 27-year-old Kenyan businessman whose brother and mother died, told Reuters. “Losing a brother and mother in the same day and not having their bodies to bury is very painful.”

A pilot who saw the crash site minutes after the disaster told The Associated Press that the plane appeared to have “slid directly into the ground.” Capt. Solomon Gizaw was among the first people dispatched to find the plane. Ethiopia’s air force discovered the wreckage.

“There was nothing to see,” he said. “It looked like the earth had swallowed the aircraft. … We were surprised.” He said that explained why rescue officials quickly sent bulldozers to begin digging out large pieces of debris.

Ethiopian Airlines, widely seen as Africa’s best-managed airline, grounded its remaining four 737 Max 8s until further notice. The carrier had been using five of the planes and was awaiting delivery of 25 more.

As night fell, the airline offered no updates on the investigation. An airline spokesman said victims’ remains should be identified in about five days.

Some insights into the disaster and its cause could take months, aviation specialists said.

“The conclusions that will come out of its probe will be beneficial to the rest of the world,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Tuesday at a news conference with visiting French President Emmanuel Macron. “These types of accidents break everyone’s heart. I hope we will learn from this crash.”

A group of officials from China paused their work at the scene to reflect with an offering of incense, fruit, bread rolls and a plastic container of the Ethiopian flatbread injera.

As the global team searched for answers, a wailing woman stood near the crash site. Kebebew Legess said she was the mother of a young Ethiopian Airlines crew member among the dead.

“She would have been 25 years old, but God would not allow her,” she wept. “My daughter, my little one.”

The British ambassador to Ethiopia, Alastair McPhail, visited the scene where at least nine of his countrymen died. “We owe it to the families to understand what happened,” he said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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