Trump issues emergency order grounding Boeing 737 Max jets

President Trump announced Wednesday the U.S. will ground Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft, bowing to heavy pressure after two of the planes were involved in deadly crashes overseas.

The reversal came after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) repeatedly brushed aside calls to ground the plane, even though nearly two dozen other countries suspended flights by the jets. The FAA said just one day ago it saw “no basis” to stop the planes from flying.

But speaking on Wednesday to reporters at the White House, Trump said the Boeing jets would be grounded “effective immediately” due to safety concerns.

“The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern,” said Trump, who added the planes will not fly “until further notice.”{mosads}

Countries began grounding the planes soon after Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board. In October, 189 people were killed when Lion Air Flight 610 crashed off the coast of Indonesia. Both planes that crashed were Max 8s.

In its grounding order, the FAA said that the new data gathered and analyzed Wednesday at the site of the Ethiopian Airlines crash, paired with new satellite images, “indicates some similarities” between the two flights “that warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents that needs to be better understood and addressed.”

Canada’s transportation minister had said earlier Wednesday that satellite data showed similarities between the two crashes. Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell would not say if his agency arrived at the same conclusion, but told reporters that “evidence found on the ground [in Ethiopia] made it even more likely that the flight path was very close to Lion Air.”

Mounting public pressure also appeared to play a role in the decision. The U.S. had grown increasingly isolated, even briefly becoming the only country in the world still flying the planes. Canada said it was grounding all 737 Max 8 and 9 planes just hours before Trump’s announcement.

“We didn’t have to make this decision today. We could have delayed it. We maybe didn’t have to make it at all. But I felt it was important both psychologically and in a lot of other ways,” Trump said.  

The crashes have become a black eye for Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, and put the Trump administration on the defensive over its decision to wait days to ground the planes.

Trump spoke with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg on Wednesday ahead of the announcement, according to a White House official.{mossecondads}

The two men have developed a relationship during Trump’s presidency, with the CEO negotiating directly with the former business mogul to try and lower the cost of a new Air Force One jet after Trump complained the contract was too expensive.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan also worked for three decades at the company before joining the Pentagon. Boeing donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.

An aviation enthusiast who once owned his own airline, Trump decided to inject himself into the debate over airliner safety on Tuesday, when he expressed concern that planes “are becoming far too complex to fly.”

“Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger,” Trump tweeted. “All of this for great cost yet very little gain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!”

In a call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Elwell stood by his agency’s initial refusal to ground the aircraft, even as dozens of other countries did so.

“We take actions based on findings, on data, on risk assessment, and since this accident occurred we were resolute in our position that we would not take action until we had data to support taking action,” he said. “That data coalesced today and we made the call.”

Elwell, who has led the FAA in an acting capacity since January 2018, declined to estimate how long the suspension would remain in effect.

“My hope is that the FAA, the carriers, the manufacturer, that all parties will work very hard to make this grounding as short as possible so that these airplanes can get back up in the sky,” he said.

Three major U.S. airlines operate dozens of Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft: American, Southwest and United. All three companies said in statements to The Hill that they would comply with the federal government’s order, and work to accommodate passengers whose flights will be rebooked.

Boeing said in a statement following Trump’s announcement that it “continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max,” its best-selling line of aircraft, despite the concerns that led to the groundings.

“We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution,” the company said. “Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes, and it always will be.”

Boeing announced late Monday that it would upgrade software systems in the company’s 737 Max 8 fleet in the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines crash. Elwell said Wednesday that the upgrade would be ready “in the next couple of months.”

A 35-day partial government shutdown earlier this year that furloughed thousands of FAA employees did not cause any delay in software development for the 737 Max planes, Elwell said, pushing back on media reports suggesting it had.  

Elwell said the software patch would improve performance on the Boeing planes, but added the grounding order would not necessarily be tied directly to the implementation of the fix.

Still, Boeing’s handling of the episode has worried members of Congress. At least one lawmaker on Wednesday suggested the possibility of forcing executives to testify.

“I think the questions have to be answered and if they’re not going to be answered in the near-term voluntarily … I think Congress would then absolutely have a duty to act and subpoena those people to come and testify,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said on CNN.

Several members of Congress, including some of Trump’s most ardent critics, praised the president’s decision to ground the planes.

“I must acknowledge @realDonaldTrump for honoring the request of many including myself to ground the 737 Max 8 jets that have taken the lives of far too many,” tweeted Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who has pushed for Trump’s impeachment.

Some Democrats, such as Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), called Trump’s decision overdue.

“This step is right, but unacceptably overdue,” said Blumenthal, who was among the first lawmakers to call for the planes to be grounded. “Our nation should be leading, not lagging, in air safety. Strong, immediate scrutiny is necessary.”

While Trump’s decision earned plaudits from lawmakers, it is unlikely to quell all controversy on Capitol Hill over the planes.

Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), who chair the House Transportation Committee and the Subcommittee on Aviation, respectively, said in a statement after Trump’s announcement that they intend to conduct “rigorous oversight” to determine why the aircraft in question did not require additional training for pilots.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of a Senate subcommittee on aviation and space, said Tuesday he would hold hearings to investigate the recent crashes “and ensure that the United States aviation industry remains the safest in the world.”

This story was updated at 5:45 p.m.

Tags Al Green Boeing Dan Kildee Donald Trump Grounded planes Patrick Shanahan Peter DeFazio plane crash Rick Larsen Ted Cruz White House
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