WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump ordered the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 planes on Wednesday, following the lead of dozens of other countries that grounded the passenger jets in the wake of two deadly plane crashes involving one of the models.
Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said his emergency order would take place “immediately” while allowing for planes in the air at the time of his afternoon announcement to reach their final destination.
“The safety of the American people, of all people, is our paramount concern,” Trump said.
The president’s announcement came days after some 40 countries grounded the planes pending an investigation into Sunday’s fatal crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Max 8 plane. The jet crashed shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board. Last October, a Max 8 plane operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air crashed 12 minutes after taking off from a Jakarta airport, killing all 189 passengers and crew.
Hours before Trump’s announcement, Canada’s transportation minister grounded all Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 jets, citing its own review of the two recent crashes, which found similarities in the trajectory both planes took before crashing.
The Federal Aviation Administration, citing "new information," said the similarities between both crashes "warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause … that needs to be better understood and addressed."
In a statement the agency said a team of U.S. federal aviation investigators was on the ground in Ethiopia assisting with the investigation into the fatal Flight 302 crash.
"The grounding will remain in effect pending further investigation, including examination of information from the aircraft's flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders," the FAA said.
Trump said he “didn’t have to make this decision today,” but “felt it was important … psychologically.” His comments came as a number of airline industry groups, including two of the nation’s largest flight attendants unions, urged the FAA to suspend the planes.
Trump said he spoke with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and airline providers before issuing the emergency order, saying, “We all agreed this was the right decision to make.”
“Boeing is an incredible company,” Trump said. “They are working very, very hard right now, and hopefully they’ll very quickly come up with the answer, but until they do, the planes are grounded.”
Boeing, in a statement said: “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 … 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 FAA had previously flagged issues with the Max 737 8 and 9 planes following the Lion Air crash, and had issued an “airworthiness directive” to airline carriers noting possible safety deficiencies, according to The Wall Street Journal. Boeing was expected to roll out new software to address some of the safety issues in January, but that was delayed for months, in part due to the five-week government shutdown that shuttered the FAA, according to the Journal.
The ban affects American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, which both fly the 737 Max 8, and United, which flies the Max 9 model.
American Airlines in a statement said it had 24 planes that would be affected by the order and will be “working to rebook customers as quickly as possible.”
United said the order would impact 14 planes in its fleet, or about 40 flights, but the carrier did not "anticipate a significant operational impact as a result of this order," adding that it would "continue to work with our customers to help minimize any disruption to their travel plans."
Southwest said in a statement Wednesday posted to its official Twitter account it was “immediately complying” with the FAA’s mandate to ground its 34 Boeing 737 Max 8 jets.
Passengers who were to fly from Baltimore to Long Island MacArthur Airport on a Max 8 Wednesday afternoon instead boarded another Southwest plane shortly after Trump made his announcement.
With Antonio Planas