Trump Issues Order to Ground Boeing 737 Max Planes

March 13, 2019 Updated: March 13, 2019

The United States is issuing an emergency order on March 13 grounding all Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft “effective immediately,” in the wake of the crash of an Ethiopian Airliner that killed 157 people, President Donald Trump said.

Many nations had already barred the Boeing 737 Max 8 from its airspace but until Trump’s announcement, the Federal Aviation Administration had said that it didn’t have any data to show the jets are unsafe. Trump cited “new information” that had come to light in the ongoing investigation into the incident. He did not elaborate.

“All of those planes are grounded, effective immediately,” Trump said during a scheduled briefing on border security.

Trump said any airplane currently in the air will go to its destination and then be grounded. He added all airlines and affected pilots had been notified.

Trump said the safety of the American people is of “paramount concern,” and added that the FAA would soon put out a statement on the action.

Trump said the decision to ground the aircraft “didn’t have to be made, but we thought it was the right decision.”

The president insisted the announcement was coordinated with aviation officials in Canada, U.S. carriers and aircraft manufacturer Boeing.

“Boeing is an incredible company,” Trump said. “They are working very, very hard right now and hopefully they’ll quickly come up with an answer.”

Southwest Airlines
A Boeing 737 Max 8 type aircraft at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston on March 11, 2019. (David Koenig/AP Photo)

In a statement, Boeing said it “continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX.” The company added that it had decided “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.”

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said the company was “supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution.”

FAA Grounds 737 Max Jets

Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order keeping Boeing’s 737 Max jets on the tarmac Wednesday.

The agency said what made the difference was new, enhanced satellite tracking data and physical evidence on the ground that linked the Ethiopian jet’s movements to those of an Indonesian Lion Air flight that plunged into the Java Sea in October and killed 189 people.

“That evidence aligns the Ethiopian flight closer to Lion Air, what we know happened to Lion Air,” said Daniel Elwell, acting FAA administrator.

Officials at Lion Air have said sensors on their plane produced erroneous information on its last four flights, triggering an automatic nose-down command that the pilots were unable to overcome on its final voyage.

The FAA was under intense pressure to ground the planes and resisted even after Canada on Wednesday joined more than 40 countries, including the European Union and China, in barring the Max from the air.

A Russian navy Kamov Ka-52 attack helicopter
A Russian navy Kamov Ka-52 attack helicopter in flight in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in this file photo. (JetKat/Shutterstock.com)

The agency, which prides itself on making data-driven decisions, had maintained there was nothing to show the Boeing jets were unsafe, and flights continued.

An aviation expert says investigators can expect to find multiple factors as they look for the cause of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash that killed 157. The plane was a Boeing 737 Max 8, the latest version of the widely used jetliner.

But President Trump, who announced the grounding, was briefed Wednesday on new developments by Elwell and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and they determined the planes should be grounded, the White House said. Trump spoke afterward with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg and Boeing signed on.

President Donald Trump speaks
Mike McDaniel, director of Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, left, and Carla Provost, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, right, listen as President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on March 13, 2019. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

“At the end of the day, it is a decision that has the full support of the secretary, the president and the FAA as an agency,” Elwell said.

While early satellite tracking data showed similarities between the Ethiopian jet’s flight path and Lion Air, Elwell said the FAA was skeptical of the low-resolution images. The data showed movements that weren’t consistent with how airplanes fly, Elwell said.

On Wednesday, global air traffic surveillance company Aireon, Boeing, and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board were able to enhance the initial data and make it more precise “to create a description of the flight that made it similar enough to Lion Air,” Elwell said.

He wouldn’t detail the evidence found on the ground, saying the FAA is a party to the ongoing investigation.

The United States also grounded a larger version of the plane, the Max 9.

The Ethiopian plane’s flight data and voice recorders were to be sent to France Wednesday night for analysis, Elwell said. Some aviation experts have warned that finding answers in that crash, which killed 157 people, could take months.

airplane parts
Rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines flight crash near Bishoftu, or Debre Zeit, south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 11, 2019. (Mulugeta Ayene/AP Photo)

Airlines, mainly Southwest, American, and United, should be able to swap out planes pretty quickly, and passengers shouldn’t be terribly inconvenienced, said Paul Hudson, president of flyersrights.org, which represents passengers. The Max, he said, makes up only a small percentage of the U.S. passenger jet fleet, he said.

“I think any disruptions will be very minor,” he said.

By Tom Krisher, Zeke Miller and Rob Gillies

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