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Senate to hold hearing as lawmakers urge grounding Boeing 737 MAX 8

Southwest Boeing MAX 8 on approach at Chicago's Midway Airport

(Reuters) — The head of a U.S. Senate panel said on Tuesday he plans to hold a hearing on the fatal crashes of two Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets since October as a growing number of lawmakers called on U.S. regulators to ground the airplane.

U.S. Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on Tuesday called on the Federal Aviation Administration to follow several other countries and temporarily ground Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX 8, days after a crash in Ethiopia killed everyone onboard one of the planes.

“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,” Sen. Romney said in a tweet.

Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas who chairs a subcommittee on aviation and space, said it would be prudent “to temporarily ground 737 Max aircraft” until the FAA “confirms the safety of these aircraft and their passengers.” Sen. Cruz added he intends “to hold a hearing to investigate these crashes, determine their contributing factors, and ensure that the United States aviation industry remains the safest in the world.”

The calls came as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and numerous countries including Britain, China, Australia, Germany, France and Singapore have grounded the aircraft.

Sen. 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,” Sen. Warren said in a statement released by her presidential campaign.

Sen. Romney, the Republican candidate for president in 2012, joined similar calls from Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Dianne Feinstein, who are Democrats.

The FAA declined to comment on the senators’ statements.

Regulators around the world and a growing number of airlines are grounding the 737 MAX 8 in the wake of two fatal crashes in five months.

Sara Nelson, who heads the Association of Flight Attendants union, on Tuesday urged the FAA to temporarily ground the 737 MAX fleet, as did Consumer Reports, an influential U.S. magazine.

“This is about public confidence in the safety of air travel,” said Ms. Nelson.

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.”

Boeing added it understands “regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets.”

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

U.S. 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,” Ms. Chao said. “I want people to be assured that we take these incidents, these accidents very seriously.”

U.S. 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!”

President Trump spoke to Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg on Tuesday after the tweets were issued and received assurances that the aircraft was safe, three people briefed on the call said. The call had been in the works since Monday night, a source said.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News on Tuesday that it was “very early in the process” of deciding whether to ground the 737 MAX 8. She added the White House would be in “constant contact” with the FAA “to make determinations at an appropriate time.”





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