Largest Flight Attendant Unions Back Grounding of Boeing 737 Max

(Bloomberg) -- The nation’s largest unions for airline flight attendants have called on U.S. regulators to ground Boeing Co. 737 Max 8 aircraft until more is known about why a second plane crashed.

The Federal Aviation Administration should take action “out of an abundance of caution,” following the deadly March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Max 8, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said in a statement Tuesday. Another union, representing American Airlines Group Inc. flight attendants, asked the carrier to “seriously consider” parking the Max 8 pending completion of an investigation, which comes just five months after a similar crash at Lion Air.

European aviation regulators joined more than 10 countries in suspending flights by Max aircraft as investigators try to determine what caused the Ethiopian jet to crash shortly after takeoff, killing 157 passengers. U.S. regulators have said there’s no evidence yet to justify a grounding in the U.S., where the plane is flown by American, Southwest Airlines Co. and United Continental Holdings Inc.

“This is about public confidence in the safety of air travel,” said Sara Nelson, president of the AFA, which represents about 50,000 flight attendants at multiple airlines, including United. “The United States has the safest aviation system in the world, but Americans are looking for leadership in this time of uncertainty. The FAA must act decisively to restore the public faith in the system.”

Travelers were contacting carriers after the crash to request non-Max flights or ask how to tell which type of plane they were scheduled to fly. In some cases, passengers tweeted messages to the airlines about their concerns.

“The safety of our crews and passengers is paramount,” said Lori Bassani, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents 27,000 American workers. “Our flight attendants will not be forced to fly if they feel unsafe.”

At least one pilots union took the opposite stance, backing up carriers’ decision to keep flying the plane.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association “is extremely confident that our entire fleet, including the Max, is safe, based on the facts, intelligence, data and information we presently have,” Jon Weaks, president of the union, told members in a message. The union supports Southwest’s decision to continue flying the Max, he said.

The pilots union based its decision on “a tremendous amount of data” Southwest has collected and analyzed from more than 41,000 flights by the Max 8, Weaks said. Southwest operates the largest fleet of the aircraft, with 34 in service.

The Max “is safe and our pilots are well-trained and well-equipped to operate it,” American Airlines reiterated in a statement Tuesday. “We are keen to learn any findings from the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, which will provide a better understanding of the cause of this recent accident.”

Unions representing American pilots and Southwest flight attendants didn’t return calls seeking comment.

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