Fearful passengers told they must board Boeing 737 Max 8

Anxious passengers booked on the same model of plane as the Ethiopian Airlines flight which crashed on Sunday are being denied refunds or transfers if they are too scared to fly.

Norwegian and TUI airlines are both continuing to run Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes and said their standard terms and conditions would apply to all passengers, with no special dispensation offered to those worried about safety.

This is despite aviation regulators in other countries including China and Indonesia having suspended flights using the model. Ethiopian Airlines, Cayman Airways and Comair have also grounded their 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

Scores of UK passengers due to fly on the planes have raised safety fears with airlines, with some saying they are “petrified” and “anxious”. Norwegian and TUI are responding by saying they are in close dialogue with Boeing, which makes the plane, and insisting that they would never operate a flight unless it was safe.

The 737 MAX 8 is also the same type of plane that plunged into the Java Sea in Indonesia last October in similar circumstances, raising questions over the airworthiness of the relatively new jet that has only been in service since 2017.

Initial reports “strongly suggest” the latest incident involving the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 “is related” to last year’s Lion Air tragedy, said Lord Tunnicliffe, a Labour frontbencher.

The peer and former pilot, who has flown previous models of the Boeing 737, called on ministers at Westminster to stop the aircraft flying until there was “a satisfactory explanation” of the Ethiopian crash.Yesterday he said (Monday): “In my day we had a rule: if it can go wrong it will go wrong. The industry seems to have lost sight of this rule. I believe everybody involved will be shown to be in dereliction of their duty. Initial reports strongly suggest the latest crash is related [to the Lion Air accident].”

He added: “What will the minister do? Can she explain why the Government is not taking immediate action to ground this aircraft until they have had a satisfactory explanation of the crash?”

The Government said any decision to ground flights was best taken at an international level.

The 737 MAX 8 is an updated version of the Boeing 737, the bestselling commercial jet in history. The biggest difference is that the MAX that has a more economical engine, according to Prof David Stupple, an aviation expert.

“What that did was alter the centre of gravity of the aircraft. The computer system of the aircraft should compensate for that, but they found that if you put the plane into a nose-down position, it doesn’t give the correct reading back to the pilot – he thinks it’s straight and level but it’s actually going down.

“That causes a lot of confusion if you are not used to the flight control system – that’s what we think caused the Lion Air crash.”

The second crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in five months sent Boeing shares down 12 per cent yesterday morning, wiping out nearly $28 billion of the company’s market value.

A spokesman for the UK Civil Aviation Authority said: “The US Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for certifying all Boeing 737 Max 8 models and it is the European Aviation Safety Agency that validates this certification across the EU, including the UK. We are liaising very closely with the EASA as the facts of this incident are established.”

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