Similar crashes of 737s raise questions and cause unease

Southwest and other airlines worked Monday to reassure jittery passengers wary of Boeing 737 Max jets after one of the aircraft crashed Sunday in Ethiopia.

"We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of our entire fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737 aircraft, and we don't have any changes planned to 737 Max," Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish said.

"We have been in contact with Boeing and will continue to stay close to the investigation as it progresses."

The Air Ethiopia disaster killed 157 people aboard a Boeing 737 Max 8 Sunday shortly after takeoff. It drew comparisons to the Lion Air crash of the same model that plummeted into the Java Sea near Indonesia soon after departing Oct. 29.

With millions of travelers preparing to fly somewhere this month, passengers expressed unease about Boeing 737s on social media.

Cayman Airways, which operates flights out of O'Hare International Airport, suspended use of its new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft "until more information is received," President Fabian Whorms said.

"We stand by our commitment to putting the safety of our passengers and crew first by maintaining complete and undoubtable safe operations," Whorms said in a statement.

China and Indonesia have grounded all Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, and Chicago-based Boeing's stock dropped Monday.

"This is a bona fide crisis for Boeing," DePaul University aviation expert Joseph Schwieterman said. "Finding a possible bug with such little data is going to require evaluating thousands of possible explanations. The company's engineering (team) is going to have to work overtime."

Southwest Airlines operates a fleet of 34 Boeing 737 Max 8 planes out of airports including Midway.

American Airlines owns 24 of the Max 8 models but does not use the planes at O'Hare.

"At this time there are no facts on the cause of the accident other than news reports," American Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Scott said, adding the carrier is monitoring the investigation.

"We have full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members, who are the best and most experienced in the industry."

United Airlines "currently has 14 Max 9 and no Max 8 or Max 10 aircraft in our fleet," United spokeswoman Rachel Rivas said.

"We have made clear that the Boeing 737 Max aircraft is safe and that our pilots are properly trained to fly the Max aircraft safely," Rivas said.

Ethiopia has grounded all its Max 8 aircraft.

"The similarities of the two crashes give Boeing and its customers no choice but to take the situation very seriously," Schwieterman said. "The good news for Boeing is that the 737 airframe has been proven to be reliable and safe, making is highly unlikely that - if there indeed is a problem with the new model - it cannot be fixed," added Schwieterman, director of DePaul's Chaddick Institute of Metropolitan Development.

Despite the similarities to the Lion Air crash, "this investigation has just begun, and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions," Federal Aviation Administration officials said Monday.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are assisting Ethiopian authorities with the crash probe.

"All data will be closely examined during this investigation, and the FAA will take appropriate action if the data indicates the need to do so," the FAA said in a statement.

Lewis University aviation professor and commercial pilot William Parrot noted that several major domestic airlines operate various versions of 737s and that "coupled with an exemplary safety record speaks to U.S. carriers' confidence in the design of the Boeing product and the widespread satisfaction with the manufacturer's industry support structure."

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Investigators are looking for the cause of the crash Sunday of an Ethiopia Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8, the second disaster involving that model of aircraft in less than six months. Bloomberg
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