By Richard Lardner and Tom Krisher • The Associated Press

CEO calls Trump

Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg called President Donald Trump on Tuesday to express his confidence in the safety of the 737 Max 8 jets, according to two people briefed on the conversation. The call came shortly after Trump raised concerns over technology in airplanes.

“Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly,” he wrote on Twitter. “Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT.”

Two U.S. airlines fly the 737 Max 8, and both said they planned to keep flying. Southwest Airlines has 34, and American Airlines has 24. The airlines said they have analyzed data and found no reason to ground them.

—The New York Times

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is facing mounting criticism for backing the airworthiness of Boeing’s 737 Max 8 jet as the number of countries that have grounded the aircraft grows in the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines crash over the weekend.

The rest of the world typically takes it cues from the FAA, long considered the world’s gold standard for aircraft safety.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, which covers 32 countries, announced Tuesday it would ban the planes from flying in its airspace.

Other countries that have either grounded the planes or temporarily banned them include China, the United Kingdom, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Oman, Malaysia and Australia.

According to the New York Times, two-thirds of the world’s 737 Max 8 jets have been pulled out of the sky.

The Columbian reports Portland International Airport will see 12 flights on the Max 8 through the rest of March. About 250 flights a day pass through PDX.

American Airlines, Air Canada and United Airlines have Max 8s but do not fly them out of PDX, the Vancouver, Washington newspaper said.

The Ethiopian disaster came five months after the deadly crash of another new Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Lion Air in Indonesia.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement Tuesday he’s concerned international aviation regulators are providing more certainty than the FAA.

“In the coming days, it is absolutely critical that we get answers as to what caused the devastating crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and whether there is any connection to what caused the Lion Air accident just five months ago,” DeFazio said.

The FAA has become cozy with airplane manufacturers and airlines when it should be more pro-active in safety, said Bill McGee, aviation adviser for Consumer Reports, which on Tuesday urged airlines and the FAA to ground the 737 Max planes until an investigation into the cause of the Ethiopian crash is completed to see if it’s related to the Lion Air crash in October.

“Increasingly the FAA is relying more and more on what the industry calls electronic surveillance. Not going out and kicking the tires, seeing the work being done, making sure it’s being done properly,” said McGee.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called for the U.S. to ground the 737 Max.

“These planes need to be inspected before people get on them,” LaHood said.

LaHood was Department of Transportation secretary in 2013 when the department grounded the Boeing 787 because of overheating lithium-ion battery packs. The planes were idled for less than a month, until Boeing crafted new fire-resistant compartments around the batteries.

LaHood said Secretary Elaine Chao should do the same thing.

Veteran accident investigators defended the FAA, which has said there’s no data to link the two crashes.

“I don’t see the facts to justify (grounding the plane),” said John Goglia, an independent safety consultant and former member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

John Cox, president and CEO of the aviation consultancy Safety Operating Systems, said countries that have grounded the Max 8 may have linked the Ethiopian and Indonesian crashes even though investigators had yet to analyze the Ethiopian plane’s black boxes.

“The FAA is on solid ground so far,” said Cox, a former airline pilot and accident investigator. “But politics may overwhelm them if enough members get together and demand the planes be grounded.”

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Dianne Feinstein of California urged the FAA to take action.

“My fear is that the FAA is simply trying to save face and avoid acknowledging the safety defect that they failed to find when they certified the plane’s safety,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

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