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Pilots and flight attendants weigh in on Boeing 737 Max 8 planes

Boeing 737 Max planes grounded in U.S.

Update: President Trump announced Wednesday afternoon that Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft will be grounded in the U.S. "immediately." Read the latest developments here. An earlier story from Tuesday appears below.


Both the Association of Flight Attendants and the American Airlines flight attendants' union are urging the grounding of Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, but some pilots and major U.S. carriers are standing by the plane's safety. Sunday's crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 was the second deadly accident in five months involving the 737 Max 8.

In the Ethiopian Airlines crash, which killed all 157 people on board, and the Lion Air crash off Indonesia in October, which killed 189, the planes went down shortly after takeoff. The cause of both crashes remain under investigation. The Lion Air cockpit data recorder showed that the jet's airspeed indicator had malfunctioned on previous flights, and much attention has focused on a software feature unique to the Boeing 737 Max series which is designed to automatically respond to those airspeed readings.

The European Union and a growing list of other countries grounded the planes this week, but the Federal Aviation Administration has not done so in the U.S., saying it has seen "no systemic performance issues" with the aircraft. The FAA said in a statement that it will take "immediate and appropriate action" if it identifies an issue that affects safety.

On Tuesday, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which says it represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines, said in a Twitter post: "We're calling on the FAA to temporarily ground the 737 MAX fleet in the US out of an abundance of caution in the wake of a second fatal accident involving the 737 MAX 8, & until FAA-identified fixes to the plane can be installed, communicated, & confirmed."

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, a union representing American Airlines' flight attendants, also expressed concerns about the 737 Max. In a statement posted on the group's website, APFA President Lori Bassani wrote: "Our Flight Attendants are very concerned with the recent Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crash, which has raised safety concerns with the 737 MAX 8. Many respected global carriers are grounding the planes. We are calling on our CEO Doug Parker to strongly consider grounding these planes until a thorough investigation can be performed."

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A shot of Boeing's 737 Max 8 airplanes from the company's website.   Eric Greer/Boeing

Two major U.S. carriers, American and Southwest, fly the 737 Max 8, while United flies the slightly larger Max 9.

American Airlines issued a statement saying, "The safety and security of our team members and our customers remains our top priority. We continue to believe the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft is safe and that our pilots are well-trained and well-equipped to operate it." It says it will closely monitor the investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines crash and is keen to learn of any findings.

Southwest Airlines Pilots Association president Captain Jonathan L. Weaks put out a lengthy statement noting that "the MAX aircraft has 17,000 recordable parameters and Southwest has compiled and analyzed a tremendous amount of data from more than 41,000 flights operated by the 34 MAX aircraft on property, and the data supports Southwest's continued confidence in the airworthiness and safety of the MAX."

The pilots association "is extremely confident that our entire fleet, including the MAX, is safe based on the facts, intelligence, data, and information we presently have," Weaks wrote. "We fully support Southwest Airlines' decision to continue flying the MAX and the FAA's findings to date. I will continue to put my family, friends, and loved ones on any Southwest flight and the main reason is you, the Pilots of SWAPA."

A United pilot echoed that sentiment, telling CBS News, "It's a safe airplane. I'd put my family on it."

The United pilots' union issued a statement saying, "Since May of 2018, we have flown more than 23,000 hours and analyzed thousands of safety data points in our 737 MAX 9 operation. Not one of these data points has been attributable to performance or mechanical deficiencies. ... As always, the safety of our crews and passengers is our most important job."

In a statement, Boeing said, "We have full confidence in the safety of the MAX."

Boeing has announced it will be implementing a software update for the Max 8, in conjunction with the FAA, which it says is "designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer." Boeing said the "software enhancement," developed after the Lion Air crash, is due to be deployed across its entire 737 Max fleet "in the coming weeks."

-Kris Van Cleave contributed reporting.