Trump orders FAA to ground Boeing 737 Max 8, Max 9 planes

President Donald Trump gestures during a briefing on drug trafficking on the southern border at the White House on Wednesday. Trump announced the grounding of Boeing's 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft at the briefing. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI

March 13 (UPI) — The Federal Aviation Administration ordered the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday, making the United States the last country to issue the order after a crash in Ethiopia over the weekend killed 157 people.

Trump issued an emergency order to ground the planes, saying aircraft already in the air will continue to their destinations before being grounded. He called the Ethiopian Airlines crash a “terrible tragedy.”

The announcement came hours after Canada became one of the last nations to halt usage of the aircraft amid concerns over the models’ safety.

“This safety notice restricts commercial passenger flights from any air operator, both domestic and foreign, of the Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft from arriving, departing, or overflying Canadian airspace,” Canadian transport minister Marc Garneau said.

Egypt, Kazakhstan and Vietnam have also joined the European Union, China, Australia and India in suspending all Boeing 737 Max 8s from their airspace.

Sunday’s crash near Addis Ababa killed all 157 aboard. It’s the second crash involving the Boeing model in less than six months. An Indonesian Lion Air flight in October killed 189. In both cases, the plane crashed shortly after takeoff.

While the airline industry awaits answers on the safety of the Boeing 737 Max 8, there’s a battle over who will analyze the “black boxes” from the weekend crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board, considered one of the world’s foremost investigative aviation agencies, wanted its experts to analyze the black boxes, but Ethiopian authorities want another country to do it, fearing American analysts may be influenced by the fact Boeing is a major U.S. company.

Negotiations behind the scenes are tense, The Wall Street Journal reported

A pilot on the doomed Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 reported “flight control problems” and was granted permission to return to Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, but the plane crashed before it got there.

The NTSB said its review of the Boeing 737 Max 8 “shows no systematic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding aircraft.”

Pilots have been voicing concerns about the aircraft for months using a federal database where they can voluntarily report problems without fear of repercussions, the Dallas Morning News reported. One captain called the flight manual “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient.”

All the complaints deal with the auto pilot feature during takeoff or landing procedures. Many said the plane would suddenly dive nose-first. The flights in question occurred in October or November, but the airline is redacted.

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The captain of the Lion Air crash’s complaint was noted when the FAA released an emergency airworthiness directive. The cause of that crash hasn’t been determined but it shares similarities with the crash in Ethiopia.

Transport workers union President John Samuelsen blamed the “lust for profit in the American aviation” for the FAA’s decision to keep flying the plane. The world’s largest airline, American Airlines, has 24 of the planes in its fleet. Southwest Airlines, the largest U.S. domestic carrier, exclusively flies Boeing 737 aircraft and has 34 of the Max 8s in its fleet.

A Southwest spokesman told the Dallas Morning News that its pilots haven’t had problems with the aircraft, adding that company data do not indicate any issues. American Airlines said it believes the aircraft are safe, saying there have been no issues like the ones described in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.

Southwest, which operates 34 Max 8 aircraft, said it was immediately complying with the FAA’s order. It said the grounding would affect less than 5 percent of its daily flights.

“Our goal is to operate our schedule with every available aircraft in our fleet to meet our customers’ expectations during the busy spring travel season,” Southwest said, adding that customers booked on Max 8 flights can rebook without additional fees or fare differences.

Boeing’s stock fell from $422 a share Friday, before the crash, to $364 Wednesday afternoon.

The company released a statement Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Trump’s announcement, saying it recommended the FAA temporarily suspend operations of the entire global fleet of Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

“We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution. Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes; and it always will be. There is no greater priority for our company and our industry. We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again,” the company said.

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