Two of the largest unions representing flight attendants have joined the chorus of calls to ground the Boeing 737 Max after Sunday's crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, the second deadly crash of the new aircraft. Meanwhile, the captain who heads the pilots' union at the largest U.S. operator of the Max, Southwest Airlines, came out in favor of continuing to operate the plane.
The flight attendant unions' moves will add more pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which thus far has stood by the 737 Max even as other governments and some airlines have suspended all operations of the aircraft.
On Tuesday, the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 21 domestic and foreign airlines, called on the FAA to "temporarily ground the 737 Max fleet in the U.S. out of an abundance of caution ... until FAA-identified fixes to the plane can be installed, communicated, and confirmed," according to a statement.
A second group, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents 25,000 flight attendants at American Airlines, also issued a call to ground the Boeing aircraft.
"We are calling on (American Airlines) CEO Doug Parker to strongly consider grounding these planes until a thorough investigation can be performed," said Lori Bassani, the organization's national president, in a statement. "While we cannot draw premature conclusions, it is critical to work with manufacturers, regulators and airlines to take steps to address our important safety concerns."
The unions' demands echo moves by a growing number of governments and airlines that have grounded the 737 Max since Sunday.
On Tuesday, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency suspended all 737 Max operations in Europe. "Following the tragic accident of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 involving a Boeing 737 Max 8, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is taking every step necessary to ensure the safety of passengers," the agency declared in a statement.
EASA's action followed similar moves by more than dozen countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Singapore, South Korea and Turkey.
Conspicuously absent from the list is the United States, where federal regulators have stood by Boeing and its troubled aircraft. On Monday, the FAA said it would give Boeing until April to make design updates for the control systems of the 737 Max.
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That comparatively lenient stance drew the ire of one of the flight attendants' unions.
The FAA's action is "insufficient considering the legitimate fear and uncertainty following two deadly accidents involving this aircraft," Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson said in Tuesday's statement. "The FAA must restore public confidence by grounding the 737 Max until the required changes have been implemented and the public can be fully assured."
Some other aviation unions have been more supportive of Boeing. On Monday, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which represents the airline's more than 9,700 pilots, backed Southwest Airlines' decision to continue flying the 34 737 Max aircraft it operates.
"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," union President Captain Jon Weaks said in a statement Monday.
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