Trump orders Boe­ing’s 737 Max planes grounded

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By James F. Peltz

WASH­ING­TON — The U.S. travel sys­tem braced for pos­si­ble dis­rup­tion after Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and the FAA on Wed­nes­day grounded Boe­ing’s 737 Max planes in­def­i­nitely in re­sponse to two deadly crashes in­volv­ing the jet­liner.

The United States had been the last ma­jor hold­out in let­ting the planes con­tinue to fly, with dozens of other na­tions hav­ing grounded the twin-en­gine jet­liner as a pre­cau­tion­ary safety move.

But hours after Canada join the na­tions ground­ing the 737 Max, Trump did the same, say­ing the “safety of the Amer­i­can peo­ple and all peo­ple is our para­mount con­cern.”

“All of those planes are grounded, ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately,” Trump said dur­ing a meet­ing at the White House, adding that the roughly three dozen fly­ing at the time would be parked after their flights ended.

After Trump’s an­nounce­ment, the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion said it made the de­ci­sion “as a re­sult of the data-gath­er­ing process and new ev­i­dence col­lected at the site and an­a­lyzed to­day,” re­fer­ring to the site of an Ethiopian Air­lines 737 Max crash after take­off in Ethiopia on Sun­day that killed all 157 peo­ple aboard.

The three U.S. air­lines that fly the 737 Max — South­west, Amer­i­can and United — said they would com­ply with the or­der and were work­ing to re­book pas­sen­gers.

South­west, with 34 of the af­fected planes, said cus­tomers booked on can­celed 737 Max flights could re­book. There will be no ad­di­tional fees or fare dif­fer­ences for trav­el­ers who re­book within 14 days of their orig­i­nal travel date be­tween their orig­i­nal des­ti­na­tions, South­west said.

Amer­i­can, with 24 planes af­fected, and United, with 16, also said they would work with cus­tomers to min­i­mize dis­rup­tions. Amer­i­can noted that it op­er­ates 85 flights with the 737 Max out of 6,700 to­tal de­par­tures in its sys­tem.

United, not­ing that the 737 Max ac­counts for about only 40 of its flights daily, said that “we do not an­tic­i­pate a sig­nif­i­cant op­er­a­tional im­pact as a re­sult of this or­der.”

Daniel K. El­well, act­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor of the FAA, told CNBC that the de­ci­sion was made based on en­hanced satel­lite data that showed the track of the Ethiopian Air­lines flight was “very close” to that of a Lion Air 737 Max flight that crashed off In­done­sia in Oc­to­ber.

“We don’t make de­ci­sions about ground­ing air­craft ... without ac­tion­able data. In this case the ac­tion­able data did not ar­rive un­til to­day,” El­well said.

Ini­tial data about the Ethiopian Air­lines flight track was “very in­com­plete” and “raw,” he said. The flight took place in an area that is not served by radar, so the FAA used satel­lite data that had to be en­hanced.

El­well said the de­ci­sion to ground the Boe­ing 737 Max air­lin­ers was his, but “be­cause of the mag­ni­tude of this ac­tion,” he con­sulted with Trump and Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Elaine Chao “along the way.” They agreed with his de­ci­sion, El­well said.

The FAA now is await­ing data from the black box of the Ethiopian Air­lines plane as the agency de­cides how long to keep the 737 Max air­lin­ers grounded.

Flightradar24, a web­site that tracks air traf­fic, tweeted a map show­ing the 737 Max planes in the air at the time of Trump’s an­nounce­ment.

Avi­a­tion ob­servers have raised ques­tions about the Max ver­sion of the 737, which is the most-pro­duced air­craft in Boe­ing’s line of jet­lin­ers, with more than 5,000 on or­der world­wide.

The Air Line Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion said it sup­ported the de­ci­sion to ground the planes and called on “in­ves­tiga­tive au­thor­i­ties re­spon­si­ble to ex­pe­dite the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Ethiopian Air­lines Flight 302 and iden­tify any cor­rec­tive ac­tion if nec­es­sary in or­der to re­turn this air­craft to ser­vice.”

Trump’s de­ci­sion came after he spoke on the phone Tues­day with Boe­ing Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Den­nis Muilen­burg fol­low­ing the pres­i­dent’s tweet that air­planes were “be­com­ing far too com­plex to fly.” Boe­ing con­firmed that Muilen­burg told the pres­i­dent the 737 Max was safe.

DREW AN­GERER/GETTY IM­AGES

An Amer­i­can Air­lines Boe­ing 737 Max 8 on a flight from Mi­ami to New York City, lands at LaGuardia Air­port on Mon­day morn­ing in the Queens bor­ough of New York City.

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