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The US Federal Aviation Administration has told Boeing to make design changes to its worldwide fleet of 737 MAX 8 aircraft, after two fatal crashes of the new model of aircraft since October.

The influential body said it expected the company to submit the changes by April, and to bring in new training for pilots in automated anti-stall technology that is suspected of playing a role in a Lion Air crash last October.

The FAA said it believed the aircraft was airworthy but was “very concerned” and monitoring developments around the Ethiopian Airways disaster on Monday.

Boeing had been facing questions over the flight control system that is suspected of causing the two accidents.

US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Monday said it will “take immediate action” if regulators identified any safety issue after the Ethiopian Airlines MAX 8 bound for Nairobi crashed minutes after take-off on Sunday, killing all 157 aboard.

The crash raised questions about the safety of the new variant of the industry workhorse, one of which also crashed and killed 189 people in Indonesia in October.

Chao said the FAA would soon issue a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the international community for Boeing 737 MAX 8 operators.

“If the FAA identifies an issue that affects safety, the department will take immediate and appropriate action,” Ms Chao told reporters. “I want people to be assured that we take these incidents, these accidents very seriously.” Canada’s transport minister said he would not hesitate to act once the cause of the crash is known.

FAA chief Dan Elwell said the notification basically “informs the international community where we are”.

Paul Hudson, the president of FlyersRights.org and a member of the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, said the plane should be grounded. “The FAA’s ‘wait and see’ attitude risks lives as well as the safety reputation of the US aviation industry,” Mr Hudson said in a statement on Monday. The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are both at the crash site in Ethiopia, Ms Chao said.

Boeing’s shares fell as much as 10 per cent on the prospect that two such crashes in such a short time could reveal flaws in its new plane. Boeing, whose shares closed down 5.3 per cent at $US400.01 in the heaviest trading trade since July 2013, did not immediately comment on the FAA notification. The 737 line is the world’s best-selling modern passenger aircraft and viewed as one of the industry’s most reliable.

China ordered its airlines to ground the jet, a move followed by Indonesia and Ethiopia. Other airlines kept flying the 737 MAX 8 on Monday after Boeing said it was safe. Virgin Australia remains committed to taking delivery of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft later this year, with its order for 30 737 MAX 8s, worth an estimated $5 billion, remaining in place.

Boeing’s 737 MAX is the newest version of a jet that has been a fixture of passenger travel for decades and the cash cow of the world’s largest aircraft maker, competing against Airbus SE’s A320neo family of single-aisle jetliners.

The 737 family is considered one of the industry’s most reliable aircraft. The MAX has a bigger and more efficient engine compared to earlier 737 models. Boeing rolled out the fuel-efficient MAX 8 in 2017 as an update to the already redesigned 50-year-old 737, and had delivered 350 MAX jets out of the total order tally of 5011 aircraft by the end of January.