Trump faces growing pressure over Boeing safety concerns

Trump faces growing pressure over Boeing safety concerns
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The Trump administration held out Tuesday as other countries grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft amid safety concerns following the second fatal crash in recent months involving the plane.

The White House gave no indication that it would force the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to temporarily ban the Max 8 models, despite precautionary measures taken by the European Union, China, Indonesia and numerous foreign airlines.

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"We have to review and see what actually took place," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Fox News. "This is going to be a process and we’re going to be in constant contact through the Department of Transportation, the FAA, and make a determination at the appropriate time."

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg assured Trump in a phone call Tuesday that the company's aircraft are safe. Earlier in the day Trump had tweeted that “airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly."

The controversy over Boeing's fleet of 737 Max 8 planes put fresh scrutiny on the aviation industry under the Trump administration. The FAA has been without a permanent leader since January 2018, when Daniel Elwell took over as acting administrator.

The FAA said in a statement Tuesday evening that its ongoing review of the planes has not turned up any issues that would warrant grounding the aircraft, and that it will take appropriate action if it determines otherwise.

Boeing issued a statement Tuesday expressing "full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX."

"We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets," the company said. "We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets."

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But those statements did not assuage concerns voiced by lawmakers and industry leaders who characterized the decision to keep the planes in rotation as an unnecessary safety risk.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzProspects for Trump gun deal grow dimmer Ted Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report 2020 Democrats call for Kavanaugh to be impeached MORE (R-Texas,) chairman of a Senate subcommittee on aviation and space, urged the U.S. government to ground the planes "until the FAA confirms the safety of these aircraft & their passengers."

"Further investigation may reveal that mechanical issues were not the cause, but until that time, our first priority must be the safety of the flying public," he said in a tweet. "I intend to hold a hearing to investigate these crashes, determine their contributing factors, and ensure that the United States aviation industry remains the safest in the world."

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGrassley: Kavanaugh classmate didn't contact Senate panel Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions This week: Congress returns for first time since mass shootings MORE (D-Calif.) called on Elwell to ground the aircraft, while Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines should voluntarily suspend use of the 737 Max models "until we have answers."

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Bolton returns to political group after exiting administration MORE (R-Utah) and Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeJackson Lee: 'Racism is a national security threat' Most oppose cash reparations for slavery: poll Poll: Most Americans oppose reparations MORE (D-Texas) were among those who called on the FAA to ground the planes pending an investigation into the causes of recent crashes.

Meanwhile, 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth Kamala Harris calls for new investigation into Kavanaugh allegations MORE (D-Mass.) questioned whether the Trump administration had ulterior motives in declining to issue a ban on the 737 Max planes.

“In the coming weeks and months, Congress should hold hearings on whether an administration that famously refused to stand up to Saudi Arabia to protect foreign arms sales has once again put lives at risk for the same reason,” she said.

The Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed Sunday killing all 157 people on board was a Boeing 737 Max 8, the same model in a Lion Air crash in Indonesia last October that killed 189 people.

Both incidents are the subject of separate investigations, and U.S. officials have been dispatched to assist in the probe into the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

Dozens of Boeing 737 Max 8s are in operation in the U.S., including 34 operated by Southwest Airlines and 24 by American Airlines. The model is typically used for longer-distance flights.

United Airlines said it does not have any 737 Max 8 planes in its fleet but uses 14 Max 9 models.

All three airlines said in separate statements to The Hill that they are in contact with Boeing and U.S. transportation officials, and that they are confident in the safety of the planes.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinProspects for Trump gun deal grow dimmer Senators struggle to get spending bills off ground as shutdown looms Trump defends push to ban flavored e-cigarettes: Let's 'keep young children from Vaping!' MORE (D-Ill.) on Tuesday was reluctant to blame the two recent crashes on a problem with the plane.

“I wouldn’t go to that point until there’s reason to believe that this was something other than [a] one-off or pilot-error situation,” said Durbin, whose state is home to Boeing’s international headquarters. “It’s horrible to have a crash of two planes of the same model. I wouldn’t presume that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the plane absent other evidence.”

Industry groups, however, pressed for action on Tuesday.

Two major unions representing flight attendants in the U.S. — the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) — issued statements on Tuesday raising concerns about the safety of the 737 Max 8 model and calling for the planes to be grounded.

"The safety of our crews and passengers is paramount. Our flight attendants will not be forced to fly if they feel unsafe," APFA President Lori Bassani said in a statement.

"The United States has the safest aviation system in the world, but Americans are looking for leadership in this time of uncertainty," said Sara Nelson, president of the AFA. "The FAA must act decisively to restore the public faith in the system.”

--Updated at 6:47 p.m.