A Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Southwest Airlines sits at a gate at Hobby Airport after arriving on March 13. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle/AP)

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 on its way to storage was forced to make an emergency landing shortly after departing Orlando on Tuesday afternoon.

Southwest Flight 8701 took off from Orlando International Airport at 2:50 p.m. and returned to the airport just before 3 p.m. after pilots reported an engine problem, federal aviation and airline officials said.

The aircraft was being ferried to an airport in southern California with no passengers aboard, officials said. All Boeing 737 Max aircraft have been grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration and are only allowed to fly in special circumstances, such as being transferred to a storage facility.

“The Crew followed protocol and safely landed back at the airport. The flight was scheduled to fly to Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, Calif., for short-term storage,” Southwest said in a statement. “The Boeing 737 MAX 8 will be moved to our Orlando maintenance facility for a review.”

The jet is one of hundreds of Boeing aircraft grounded around the world while investigators work to find the cause of an Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 earlier this month. The 737 Max 8, Boeing’s newest plane, has been involved in two crashes in less than six months. The first, in October, killed all 189 passengers and crew aboard a Lion Air flight when the plane plunged into the Java Sea in Indonesia shortly after takeoff.

The FAA said it is investigating Tuesday’s incident.

“The crew of Southwest Airlines Flight 8701, a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, declared an emergency after the aircraft experienced a reported engine problem while departing from Orlando International Airport in Florida about 2:50 p.m. today,” the FAA said. “The aircraft returned and landed safely in Orlando . . . The FAA is investigating.”

The FAA announced the grounding of more than 70 Max aircraft in operation in the United States three days after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, and following reports of similarities between that March 10 crash and the Lion Air Flight 610 plane that crashed in Indonesia on Oct. 29.

The grounding of the Max aircraft has impacted thousands of travelers in recent days. Airlines have warned travelers about possible disruptions and the likely need to rebook for passengers who were originally scheduled to be on a Max jet.

Airlines say they have been rerouting aircraft through their networks to cover many of the 737 Max schedules to avoid flight cancellations. American and Southwest combined have 58 Max 8s in their fleets. United Airlines has 14 of the Max 9 planes, which were also grounded.

Some 737 Max 8 were still flying in U.S. airspace this week as airlines continued to reposition their aircraft. No passengers were on board.