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By Corky Siemaszko
Some of America’s biggest airlines fly the same type of jet owned by Ethiopian Airlines that crashed shortly after takeoff Sunday, killing all 157 people aboard.
It’s the Boeing 737 Max 8, and its maker says that model jet, as well as its Max 9 version, are “the fastest-selling airplane in Boeing history.”
The Boeing Co. says on its website that it has received “nearly 4,700 orders from more than 100 customers worldwide.”
A former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, Jim Hall, said on MSNBC that Boeing should ground all of its 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft until they can be checked for safety.
Hall noted that Sunday’s catastrophe in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa happened less than six months after a new 737 Max 8 plane owned by Lion Air crashed just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia, in late October, killing 189 people.
“My personal feeling on this is that Boeing aircraft company ought to voluntarily itself ground these aircraft because of the similarities between these two accidents,” Hall said. “It’s a brand new aircraft, and we had such a remarkable safety record in aviation, that I think this blip needs to be addressed by the manufacturer, and they need to do a detailed — a detailed look, and with these black boxes available, that’ll be done in a short term.”
Boeing said in a statement it is sending a team to Ethiopia to provide assistance, but it has not as yet called for grounding the new planes.
“We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team,” the company said in its latest statement. “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 FAA said Boeing has produced 329 of the 737 Max 8 series and 21 of the Max 9 models.
“The FAA is closely monitoring developments in the Ethiopian Flight 302 crash early this morning. We are in contact with the State Department and plan to join the NTSB in its assistance with Ethiopian civil aviation authorities to investigate the crash,” the agency said in a statement.
U.S. airlines that fly 737 Max 8 planes also have not indicated any immediate plans to ground their planes.
In response to Twitter messages from apparently worried passengers, Southwest Airlines confirmed it has 34 of the 737 Max 8 version of the planes in its fleet and said the company is “confident in the safety of our fleet.”
“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,” the airline said in a statement. “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.”
American Airlines said it has 24 of the 737 Max 8 aircraft and that it will “closely monitor the investigation in Ethiopia.”
“We have full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members, who are the best and most experienced in the industry,” American said in a statement.
United Airlines said it doesn’t have any 737 Max 8 jets but has 14 of the 737 Max 9 versions in its fleet.
“We have made clear that the Max aircraft is safe and that our pilots are property trained to fly the aircraft safely,” a United Airlines spokesman said.
The Aviation Capital Group, which leases aircraft to airlines around the world, is also a Boeing customer, according to the company website. It was not immediately clear whether it owns the 737 Max 8, the Max 9 or both. NBC News reached out to American Capital for comment but did not immediately hear back.
Canadian airlines like WestJet, Sunwing Airlines and Air Canada also have 737 Max 8 jets or the Max 9 version in their fleets as does the Mexican airline Aeromexico, according to the Boeing website.
While no U.S. airlines that fly the 737 Max 8 or Max 9 jets have announced they are grounding them, China and Indonesia in addition to Ethiopia said they are halting use of the planes to inspection them.
Chinese aviation authorities suspended the operation of all 737 Max 8 planes by domestic airliners like Xiamen and Shandong.
In addition, Cayman Airways, which operates in the Caribbean and has regular flights to and from the U.S., said in a statement it too was suspending all 737 Max 8 flights “until more information is received.”