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Before Trump's order grounding Boeing Max 8, planes were still being flown out of BWI

Before Trump's order grounding Boeing Max 8, planes were still being flown out of BWI
The Federal Aviation Administration has allowed Southwest Airlines to keep flying Boeing 737 Max 8 planes, even as they have been grounded across much of the world due to safety concerns following the deadly crash in Ethiopia. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

UPDATE: President Donald Trump on Wednesday issued an “emergency order” grounding all Boeing Max 8 airplanes in the U.S., after Canada joined much of the rest of the world in ordering the jetliners out of the air during the investigation into the fatal Ethiopian Air crash Sunday.

Forty-nine flights were delayed and 14 were canceled Wednesday at BWI as of 3:30 p.m., according to FlightAware, a flight-tracking website.

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The airport and Southwest Airlines, its top carrier, did not respond to questions about how many of the interruptions were related to the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max jets.

The original article — written before Trump’s emergency order — appears below.

Despite the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliners across much of the world Tuesday due to safety concerns following the crash that killed 157 people in Ethiopia, the Federal Aviation Administration has allowed Southwest Airlines and others to keep flying the planes — including in Baltimore.

The FAA, which is assisting in the crash investigation, has told international authorities that the planes, which have been involved in two deadly crashes overseas in five months, remain safe. The agency will take “immediate and appropriate action” if safety issues are discovered, Acting FAA Administrator Daniel K. Elwell said Tuesday.

“Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft,” Elwell said in a statement. “Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action.”

Amid mounting pressure, Boeing said it had full confidence in its fleet and noted the agency’s decision, although the manufacturer said it understood that other regulators “have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets.”

“We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets,” Boeing said in a statement. “Based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”

The airplane model in question makes up about 5 percent of Southwest’s 750-plane fleet, according to the airline, whose major East Coast hub at BWI Marshall Airport is responsible for more than two-thirds of the airport’s passenger traffic.

While some airlines voluntarily grounded their Max 8s, Southwest, which exclusively uses Boeing airplanes, stuck by the Chicago-based plane manufacturer Tuesday. The airline cited its more than 41,000 flights using the planes, the airline said.

“We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of the MAX 8 and we do not have any changes planned to our MAX 8 operating plans,” Southwest spokeswoman Michelle Agnew said in a statement.

Southwest flies roughly a dozen of the Max 8 planes to and from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on an average Tuesday, according to Ian Petchenik, spokesman for FlightRadar24, a flight-tracking website. Southwest declined to confirm the number of MAX 8 planes based at the airport.

The surest way for passengers to check the type of plane being used for their upcoming flights is by calling the airline, but other options, such as SeatGuru and FlightView, also list the plane type.

The Maryland Aviation Administration, which is planning a $60 million expansion to BWI’s Concourse A to accommodate Southwest’s growth and helping pay for a $130 million maintenance hangar for the airline, referred questions to the airline and the FAA.

All 149 passengers and eight crew members died on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which was headed to Nairobi, Kenya, when it crashed Sunday just moments after takeoff. The cause of the crash, and that of a previous Lion Air crash just after takeoff in Indonesia in October, which killed 189 people, are not yet known.

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While American Airlines also continued using the planes, many other carriers, including Turkish Airlines, Oman, Norwegian Air Shuttle and South Korean airline Eastar Jet halted their use of the Boeing model Tuesday.

Despite the FAA’s assurance that the planes are safe, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency grounded Boeing Max 8 flights there Tuesday, along with regulators in Australia, China, India, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries. The U.S. and Canada are among the only remaining countries with the planes still in the air.

The FAA said it expects Boeing will complete improvements soon to an automated anti-stall system suspected of contributing to the deadly crash of the Lion Air plane.

Several passengers scheduled to fly out of BWI Marshall Airport spent Monday and Tuesday reaching out to Southwest with concerns about their flights. The airline did not respond to a question from The Sun about whether it would allow customers with safety concerns to receive refunds or use their tickets for other flights.

Anton Attard, 32, a consultant who lives in Silver Spring, has booked a Southwest flight next week to Chicago from BWI Marshall.

Attard reached out to Southwest after hearing about the Ethiopia crash to make sure the 737-800 he was scheduled to board wasn’t just another name for the Max 8 model that crashed. An airline representative assured him they were different aircraft.

Both have 175 seats, but the 737-800 is an earlier, slightly smaller model.

Attard praised Southwest for its quick response but expressed disappointment in Boeing’s and the FAA’s handling of the situation.

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“You should ground planes while you’re doing the investigation to keep people safe,” Attard said. “You’re putting people’s lives at risk.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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