Boeing and the United States Federal Aviation Administration have grounded the worldwide fleet of 737 MAX aircraft as concern grows about its airworthiness.

The move follows the crash of an Ethiopia Airlines plane over the weekend, with the loss of 157 lives.

The incident was the second accident involving the aircraft type in under six months, following the downing of a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max in October last year with the loss of all 178 passengers.

Both planes came down shortly after take-off.

In response, a number of countries – including China, India, the UK, EU, Singapore and Australia – temporarily suspended operations of the aircraft type.

However, the United States and US-bases manufacturer Boeing had continued to insist the 737 Max was safe to operate.

Boeing has now changed course and recommended a temporary halt to operations

A statement read: “After consultation with the United States Federal Aviation Administration, the United States National Transportation Safety Board and aviation authorities and its customers around the world, 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.”

Dennis Muilenburg, chief executive of Boeing, said safety was the priority.

He explained: “We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution.

“We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again.”

The FAA issued an emergency order of prohibition earlier, effectively banning the Boeing 737 Max from operations in the United States and around the world.

American Airlines quickly said it would comply with the order.

On average, American operates 85 flights per day on the Max 8, out of 6,700 departures throughout its system.

“Our operations centre is working to re-route aircraft throughout the system to cover as much of our schedule as we can,” the carrier said.

Southwest Airlines, another major US operator, said it would ground its 34 Max 8 aircraft.

Southwest operates a fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737s, with the Max 8 accounting for around five per cent its daily flights.

“During our 48-year history, Southwest has continuously demonstrated our commitment to safety,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest chairman.

“We sincerely appreciate the trust our customers and employees place in our airline every day, and the Southwest team is working diligently to minimise disruptions to our customers’ travel plans.”