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Why American and Southwest Airlines still fly the 737 Max, despite two fatal crashes

Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines are still flying their 737 Max airplanes, even as the FAA on Monday said it would issue worldwide guidance on how to handle the popular planes.

More than 20 airlines around the globe grounded their 737 Max fleets on Monday — just one day after an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 people aboard.

Later Monday, the FAA released an updated statement saying it would issue a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community for Boeing 737 Max operators.

“The FAA continuously assesses and oversees the safety performance of U.S. commercial aircraft,” the statement read. “If we identify an issue that affects safety, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action.”

American Airlines has 24 of the aircraft in its fleet. Southwest has 34 737 Max 8s.

“As Southwest operates a fleet of 34 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, we have been in contact with Boeing and will continue to stay close to the investigation as it progresses,” Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish said Monday in an email. “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 operations.”

Parrish added that Southwest, which is launching service to Hawaii beginning next week, from Oakland, Calif., had no plans to use the 737 Max 8s on those flights. Instead, he said, the 737-800 would be used for those flights over the Pacific Ocean.

Officials in Ethiopia, China and Indonesia on Monday grounded all Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft after this weekend’s crash, which based on initial reports appeared to occur in similar fashion to another recent tragedy involving the same model of jet.

Just five months ago, a 737 Max 8 operated by Lion Air crashed into the Indonesian seas just after takeoff, killing 189 people. In that crash, questions were raised about whether a function of the aircraft’s controls designed to prevent the plane from getting its nose too high instead forced the craft into a nose dive.

After the Lion Air crash, Boeing took the position that the pilots should have known how to handle the emergency, and that training was an issue.

After the Ethiopia crash, Boeing issued a statement saying the airline “is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane.”

“A Boeing technical team will be traveling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board,” the statement read.

American Airlines also issued a statement expressing condolences to “the families and friends of those on board Ethiopian Airlines flight 302,” but indicated no plans to stop flying the 737 Max 8.

“At this time there are no facts on the cause of the accident other than news reports,” American’s statement read. “Our Flight, Flight Service, Tech Ops and Safety teams, along with the Allied Pilots Association (APA) and Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), will closely monitor the investigation in Ethiopia, which is our standard protocol for any aircraft accident.”

American officials also said they would continue to “collaborate with the FAA and other regulatory authorities, as the safety of our team members and customers is our number one priority. We have full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members, who are the best and most experienced in the industry.”

Travelers who want to check whether flights they have booked are using the 737 Max 8 can find out by visiting their airline’s website. The information is typically visible on a passenger’s boarding pass, or flight itinerary.

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Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.
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