People stand near collected debris at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines near Bishoftu, Ethiopia, on March 11 2019. Picture: AFP/MICHAEL TEWELDE
People stand near collected debris at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines near Bishoftu, Ethiopia, on March 11 2019. Picture: AFP/MICHAEL TEWELDE

London  — Britain, France and Germany joined a growing list of countries to ban Boeing 737 MAX planes from their airspace on Tuesday as airlines around the world grounded the jets following a second deadly accident in just five months.

On Sunday a new Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 went down minutes into a flight to Nairobi, killing all 157 people on board. In October, a Lion Air jet of the same model crashed in Indonesia, killing 189 — but no evidence has emerged to link the two incidents.

The widening airspace closures puts pressure on Boeing, the world’s biggest planemaker, to prove 737 MAX planes are safe.

A day after US regulators stood by the plane’s airworthiness, governments, airlines and aviation authorities in Britain, France, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Norway  joined South America and Asia on Tuesday opting for a zero-risk approach. 

Low-cost airline Norwegian Air Shuttle, South Korea’s Eastar Jet and South Africa’s Comair said they would halt flights, but the full extent of the impact on international travel routes was unclear.

Turkish Airlines was also among the latest to announce it was suspending its 12 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from flying until the “uncertainty” was clarified.

Earlier, Australia followed Singapore in temporarily barring the 737 Max from its airspace, meaning the newest version of Boeing’s best-selling model is now blocked from a key long-distance travel destination as well as Changi, Asia’s second-busiest international airport and a popular transit hub.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore barred any Boeing 737 Max flight in and out of the city-state, dragging airlines including Singapore Airlines’s SilkAir, China Southern Airlines, PT Garuda Indonesia and Shandong Airlines into a standoff with the Chicago-based plane maker and the US regulator. While no Australian airlines operate the 737 Max, two foreign carriers fly them into the country, its aviation watchdog said.

Despite the US Federal Aviation Administration’s verdict that the plane remains safe to fly, the wave of Boeing aircraft groundings could potentially snowball into lost aircraft sales. Lion Air is said to be considering a switch to Airbus SE planes, a person familiar with the discussions said, with the carrier suspending further 737 Max deliveries in 2019. 

Singapore’s aviation regulator will “gather more information and review the safety risk associated with the continued operation of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft into and out of Singapore”, said a statement.

Changi Airport declined to comment on the potential impact of the move.

SilkAir, which runs six 737 Max, said the blockade will have an effect on its flight schedules, while Shandong Airlines cancelled a flight to Singapore on Tuesday from the Chinese city of Jinan, according to Changi.

China was the first aviation market to move on the 737 Max following the Ethiopian Airlines crash, which killed all 157 people on board the flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi in Kenya. The regulator grounded all 96 of China’s 737 Max planes until their safety can be assured.

Bloomberg, Reuters