The UK has joined a number of other countries in banning Boeing 737 Max planes from operating in or over its airspace, following a second fatal crash involving the plane in less than five months.
The move leaves US regulators, airlines and the manufacturer increasingly isolated in maintaining the plane is safe. But pressure on Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration to act could be intensified after Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter, declaring that planes were “becoming far too complex to fly”.
A spokesman for the UK civil aviation authority said: “As we do not currently have sufficient information from the flight data recorder [black box] we have, as a precautionary measure, issued instructions to stop any commercial passenger flights from any operator arriving, departing or overflying UK airspace.”
British pilots’ union Balpa welcomed the decision, saying: “Safety must come first.”
There are five 737 Max aircraft registered and operational in the UK, all belonging to TUI. Norwegian has also grounded all its 18 737 Max 8 planes, registered across Europe, including several which it uses to operate transatlantic flights from Edinburgh and Ireland to the USA.
Turkish Airlines also operates 737 Max 8 planes. Two of its flights headed to Britain appear to have been forced to turn back to Istanbul in midair, according to FlightRadar24.
TUI, the world’s largest travel and tourism company, said it would discontinue using the 737 Max across all six airlines in its group.
Earlier on Tuesday, Australia and Singapore suspended operations of all Boeing 737 Max aircraft in and out of their airports, after Indonesia and China grounded their fleets of the Boeing 737 Max 8. Oman and South Korea have also followed suit.
Nearly 40% of the in-service fleet of 371 Boeing 737 Max jets globally have been grounded, according to industry publication Flightglobal, including 97 jets in the biggest market, China.
The Singapore suspension affects SilkAir, an arm of Singapore Airlines, as well as China Southern Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Shandong Airlines and Thai Lion Air. Australia’s move affects only Singapore Airlines Ltd’s Silk Air and Fiji Airways, as no Australian carriers use the model.
One of Brazil’s biggest airlines, GOL, grounded its seven aircraft and Aeroméxico suspended the use of its six planes late on Monday, echoing moves by airlines in China and Indonesia as well as Cayman Airways and African carrier Comair. Argentina’s Association of Airline Pilots too has ordered its members not to fly the Max series. GOL said it had confidence in Boeing and that its Max 8 aircraft had made 2,933 flights, totalling more than 12,700 hours, “in total safety and efficiency”.