The Ethiopian crash on Sunday killed 157 people, and was the second disaster involving the Boeing 737 MAX 8 in less than five months.
In October, the unexplained crash of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 in Indonesia killed 189 people.
The world’s biggest plane maker is facing its most serious crisis in years, as the decades-old 737 series, a plane cited as a global workhorse, takes a severe blow to its prestige.
America’s Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) issued a statement overnight announcing it had ordered the grounding of all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by US airlines or in US territory.
The agency said new, enhanced satellite tracking data and physical evidence on the ground linked the Ethiopian jet’s movements to those of an Indonesian Lion Air flight.
“That evidence aligns the Ethiopian flight closer to Lion Air, what we know happened to Lion Air,” said Daniel Elwell, acting FAA administrator.
He would not detail the evidence found on the ground, saying the FAA was a party to the ongoing investigation.
US-based aircraft-tracking firm Aireon provided satellite data to the FAA, Transport Canada and several other authorities, company spokesperson Jessie Hillenbrand said.
Aireon’s space-based system can monitor data from aircraft equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders.
The agency’s statement was issued shortly after US President Donald Trump ordered that the planes be grounded, after earlier commenting that planes were becoming “too complex to fly”.
Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam told the Wall Street Journal the pilot had reported problems shortly after take-off, but did not indicate a bird strike or any other external factors were involved.
“He reported back to air traffic controllers and he said he has flight control problems, so he wants to return back and clearance was given to him to return back,” he said.
Boeing notes ‘abundance of caution’
Boeing, which maintained that its planes were safe to fly, said in a statement that it supported the FAA’s move to temporarily ground 737 MAX flights.
“Boeing has determined — out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety — to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft.”
This is the second time the FAA has halted flights of a Boeing plane in six years.
In 2013, it grounded the 787 Dreamliner because of problems with smoking batteries.
Coincidentally, Ethiopian Airlines was the first carrier to resume Dreamliner flights once the grounding was lifted.
Shares of the Seattle-based company, which were up earlier in the session, fell 2 per cent to $US370.48 ($522.15).
The shares have fallen about 13 per cent since Sunday’s crash, losing about $32 billion of market value.
Budget carrier Norwegian Air said it would seek compensation from Boeing over the grounding of its fleet, with CNN reporting that it was the first airline to do so.
US airlines that operate the 737 MAX including Southwest Airlines, American Airlines Group and United Airlines, said they were working to re-book passengers.
Southwest is the world’s largest operator of the 737 MAX 8 with 34 jets, while American flies 24 MAX 8s and United 14 MAX 9s.
And this week, anonymous reports by pilots filed to NASA revealed that MAX 8 jets suffered sudden nose dives in two separate incidents in 2018.
Although there is no proof of any link between the incidents, fears about the jet’s safety have spooked passengers.
Travel website Kayak was making changes to let customers exclude specific aircraft types from searches, and booking sites were looking to reroute passengers.
The grounding was welcomed by American air workers, and the announcement came hours after the US Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) called on the US to ground the planes in question.