The US has grounded all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft while the Federal Aviation Administration investigates new evidence there may be similarities between two fatal crashes involving the aircraft in less than five months.
President Donald Trump announced the grounding of all US Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 737 MAX 9 aircraft Wednesday US time, saying authorities had received new information from the Ethiopian crash site “and other locations”.
Boeing subsequently announced it had recommended that the global MAX fleet be grounded “out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety”.
The US is one of the last countries to ground the type in the wake of the fatal crashes of Lion Air Flight JT610 last October and Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 on Sunday. All 189 passengers died in the Lion Air crash, while 157 died in the Ethiopian tragedy.
READ: Pilot of fatal Ethiopian flight reported technical difficulties.
Citing the safety of Americans as a paramount concern, Trump said the grounding meant any plane currently in the air would go to its destination and be grounded until further notice.
“The FAA is prepared to make an announcement very shortly regarding the new information and physical evidence we’ve received from the site and from other locations and through a couple of other complaints,” he said.
“We’ve had a very, very detailed group of people working on the 737-8 and the 737- 9 new airplanes. We’re going to be issuing an emergency order of prohibition to ground all flights of the 737 Max 8 and the 737 Max 9 and planes associated with that line.”
Trump said he had spoken with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, acting Federal Aviation Administration head Dan Elwell and Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg and they were in agreement with the action.
“Airlines have been all notified, airlines are agreeing with this,” he said. “The safety of the American people, and all people, is of paramount concern.”
The US president expressed sympathy for the Lion Air crash last October and Sunday’s crash of Ethiopian Flight 302, which klilled157 people.
“Boeing is an incredible company, they are working very, very hard right now,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll come up with the answer but until they do the planes are grounded.”
In its emergency order of prohibition, the FAA said the new information related to the aircraft’s configuration just after takeoff and refined data from satellite-based tracking of the aircraft’s flight path.
Taken together, it said, these indicated some similarities between The Lion Air and Ethiopian accidents “that warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two accidents that needs to be better understood and addressed”.
“The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today,” the FAA said in a statement.
“This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision.
“The grounding will remain in effect pending further investigation, including examination of information from the aircraft’s flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders.
“An FAA team is in Ethiopia assisting the NTSB as parties to the investigation of the Flight 302 accident.”
The FAA had been under increasing pressure to ground MAX aircraft amid increasing public concern about their safety.
READ: Europe, US at odds over 737 MAX groundings
Its decision came after Canada decided to ground its MAX aircraft, joining other countries around the world ordered operators to take the new 737 variants out of the air.
The FAA had previously argued there was not sufficient evidence to take the action and media reports in the US claimed Boeing’s Muilenburg had lobbied against the grounding.
Boeing said in a statement that it continued to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX.
But it had decided after consultation with the FAA and the US National Transportation Safety Board to recommend to the temporary suspension of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft.
“We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution, ” Muilenburg said.
“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 the 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.”
US airlines reacted quickly to comply with the grounding. American Airlines, which has 24 737 MAX aircraft, said it operated 85 flights a day using the plane out of 6,700 daily departures.
It said it regularly monitored its aircraft, including extensive flight data collection, and this gave it confidence in the safe operation of all its aircraft while contributing to its exemplary safety record.
“American has flown more than 2.5 million passengers — during 46,400 operating hours encompassing nearly 18,000 flights — safely on our MAX 8 fleet since the first one was delivered on Sept. 2017 and began commercial service later that November,” it said.
Southwest Airlines said its 34 MAX aircraft accounted for less than 5 percent of its daily flights.
“While we remain confident in the MX 8 after completing more than 88,000 flight hours accrued over 41,000 flights, we support the actions of the FAA and other regulatory agencies and governments across the globe that have asked for further review of the data — including information from the flight data recorder — related to the recent accident involving the MAX 8,” it said.
Meanwhile, an Ethiopian Airlines spokesman said the crashed plane’s black boxes were heading to Europe to speed up the analysis of the crucial information they contain.
While investigators have yet to determine the cause of the Ethiopian crash, it has been revealed that one of the pilots told air traffic controllers the plane had “flight control problems” while requesting permission to return to Addis Ababa.
The Wall Street Journal reported Ethopia had asked France’s Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses for assitance in analyzing the flight recorders.