Trump grounds Boeing planes
‘The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern’
President Trump grounded Boeing’s 737 Max planes Wednesday, following the lead of 51 other countries that have ordered an indefinite freeze on flying the model involved in two calamitous crashes.
“The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern,” Trump said during a meeting at the White House.
“All of those planes are grounded, effective immediately,” Trump said, a move that threatened to spark travel disruptions because there are about 74 737 Max aircraft used by three U.S. carriers — Southwest, American and United.
The order affects the Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9. Trump said any planes currently in the air would be grounded upon completion of their flights “until further notice.” He added, “Boeing is an incredible company. They are working very, very hard right now.”
After Trump’s announcement, the FAA said it had 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 a Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crash after takeoff in Ethiopia on Sunday that killed all 157 people aboard.
“The grounding will remain in effect pending further investigation,” the FAA said.
The three U.S. airlines all said they would immediately comply with the order. Southwest, with 34 of the affected planes, said customers who were booked on canceled 737 Max flights could re-book. There will be no additional fees or fare differences for travelers who re-book 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. United, noting that the 737 Max accounts for about only 40 of its flights daily, said it did not “anticipate a significant operational impact as a result of this order.”
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 Assn. said it supported the FAA 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 but declined to elaborate on the call.
Trump’s move came after Canada joined much of the world in grounding Boeing
Co.’s 737 Max jetliner Wednesday, which had left the United States virtually alone in allowing continued use of the hugely popular twin-engine craft.
Aviation authorities in Europe, India, China and elsewhere grounded the plane in the aftermath of the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines jet and the Indonesian
Lion Air disaster, in October, both of which involved the 737 Max.
Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters that Canada banned the plane from operating in the country, or flying over it, because of inconclusive data suggesting similarities between the crashes.
Boeing said Wednesday it had “full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX. However, after consultation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), 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.”
Before Trump acted, the FAA had not grounded the aircraft, saying Tuesday the agency had found “no basis” for taking such action.
The FAA and Garneau’s agency work closely on most aviation matters, but Garneau said, “We make our own decisions in Canada and occasionally those decisions may be different from our colleagues south of the border.”
“They’re aware of it and the reasons for it,” Garneau said of the FAA’s and Canada’s decisions, “and similarly they let us know when they have a difference of opinion.”
When asked what would
persuade Canada to lift the ban, Garneau replied, “The smoking gun that will explain what happened with this particular flight” in Ethiopia.
“We’ll find out, hopefully, in the coming days how that aircraft behaved” after authorities review the doomed jetliner’s flight recordings, Garneau said.
Meanwhile, the mounting concerns reportedly have prompted some airlines to reconsider their 737 Max orders.
Kenya Airways is reevaluating plans to buy the plane and might switch to the rival Airbus A320 or upgrade to Boeing’s larger 787 Dreamliner, Bloomberg reported the carrier’s chairman, Michael Joseph, as saying.
In addition, Indonesia’s Lion Air is moving to drop a $22-billion order for the 737 in favor of the Airbus model, Bloomberg reported an unidentified source as saying.
It was the crash of a Lion Air 737 Max in October in Indonesia, which killed 189 people, that first raised questions about the aircraft, and analysts have focused on software in the new jetliner intended to stop the plane from stalling.
An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8, on a flight from Miami to New York City, lands at LaGuardia Airport on Monday morning.
Forensics investigators and recovery teams collect personal effects and other materials from the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302on Tuesday in Bishoftu, Ethiopia.