Southwest Airlines, Sacramento’s largest air carrier, says it is continuing to fly the type of jet involved in two recent major crashes, even as passenger advocates and politicians call for the jets’ grounding.
The plane, a Boeing 737 Max 8, was the aircraft involved in an Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday that killed 157 people. In October, a Lion Air flight crashed, also a Max 8, killing all 189 passengers minutes after takeoff in Jakarta.
The crashes have prompted some international carriers and the European Union to ground the plane, according to media reports. In the U.S., consumer groups and some politicians, including California Senator Dianne Feinstein, are calling for the Federal Aviation Administration to ground the planes as well pending investigations into the crash causes.
As of Tuesday evening, FAA officials said they do not see a need yet to ground the planes.
“The FAA continues to review extensively all available data and aggregate safety performance from operators and pilots of the Boeing 737 MAX.,” FAA interim administrator Daniel K. Elwell said in a press statement. “Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft.
“Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action. In the course of our urgent review of data on the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash, if any issues affecting the continued airworthiness of the aircraft are identified, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action.”
Southwest and American Airlines are the two domestic carriers that use Max 8s. American, another Sacramento carrier, also is continuing to fly the Boeing 737 Max 8 jets. Officials with American said the airline does not operate that jet in or out of the Sacramento International Airport.
Southwest, which does use the Max 8 on Sacramento flights, said on Tuesday it is continuing to operate the jets nationally.
The airline has 34 of the craft in use as part of its 700-plus jet fleet, reportedly the most in any domestic airline fleet.
In a federal filing last month, Southwest reported it plans to dramatically increase the number of Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in its fleet over the next few years as part of a fleet modernization initiative, saying the planes are fuel-efficient. The filing indicates the airline plans to add 219 of the craft between now and 2025, with options to purchase 115 more.
Southwest representatives declined comment Tuesday about those upcoming purchases, but said it is monitoring the crash investigation and is in talks with Boeing.
“As the investigation of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 progresses, we are staying in close contact with Boeing, the FAA, and other airlines to learn the cause of the accident,” Southwest said. “We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of the MAX 8. We don’t have any changes planned to our MAX 8 operations.”
Southwest Airlines said customers can view the type of aircraft they will ride on when they click on the flight number during the online booking process. The flight number is viewable on the Southwest desktop website prior to purchase of the ticket.
Fliers can determine the aircraft type also by going to other online commercial flight tracker websites, such as the Flight Guru website, where fliers can type in the flight number.
Southwest does not charge passengers a fee for changing flights. “We are not issuing refunds of non-refundable fares,” Southwest spokeswoman Michelle Agnew said on Monday. “Our customer relations team is working with individuals on a case-by-case basis if they need to change their reservation.”
The Federal Aviation Administration issued an earlier press statement on Monday saying it is investigating the Ethiopian crash.
“An FAA team is on-site with the NTSB in its investigation of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. We are collecting data and keeping in contact with international civil aviation authorities as information becomes available ... The FAA continuously assesses and oversees the safety performance of U.S. commercial aircraft. If we identify an issue that affects safety, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action.”