Trump orders Boeing’s 737 Max planes grounded
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.
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.