US Grounds Boeing 737 Max Aircraft In Wake Of Deadly Crashes

March 14, 2019 by Dan McCue
A Boeing 737 Max gives a display during the opening day of the Farnborough International Airshow in Hampshire, England on July 16, 2018. (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire via ZUMA Press)

President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House Wednesday the United States is grounding the Boeing 737 Max aircraft after days of critics saying the administration failed to swiftly protect the flying public after two of the planes were involved in deadly crashes overseas.

“All of those planes are grounded, effective immediately,” the president said.

The decision came two days after the Federal Aviation Administration said it had found no evidence to support grounding the planes in the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines crash over the weekend.

That stance prompted criticism from lawmakers and a former transportation secretary as the United States appeared to be adopting a wait-and-see position as aviation safety regulators around the world, including Canada, China, Australia, the European Union and the United Kingdom, all moved to ground the passenger jet in their jurisdictions.

The same model plane crashed into the Java Sea in October, killing all onboard.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement Tuesday that he was concerned that international aviation regulators are providing more certainty to the flying public than the FAA.

“In the coming days, it is absolutely critical that we get answers as to what caused the devastating crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 and whether there is any connection to what caused the Lion Air accident just five months ago,” DeFazio said.

The same day former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called for the administration to act.

“These planes need to be inspected before people get on them,” LaHood said. “The flying public expects somebody in the government to look after safety, and that’s DOT’s responsibility.”

As transportation secretary in 2013, LaHood grounded the Boeing 787 Dreamliner because of overheating lithium-ion battery packs. The planes went back into service less than a month later, after Boeing engineered new fire-resistant compartments around the batteries.

LaHood said current Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao should do the same thing with the 737, even if it meant overruling the FAA.

“The secretary has the authority to suspend these planes” he said. “She has the authority to do it no matter what the FAA thinks.”

In announcing the decision to ground the planes on Wednesday, Trump called Boeing “an incredible company” and said it is working “very hard” to identify and address issues with the aircraft.

The president said all 737 Max aircraft in air as he spoke would proceed to their destinations and be grounded upon landing.

In a statement issued after the president spoke, the FAA said it was ordering the temporary grounding of the Boeing 737 aircraft “as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today.”

“This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision,” the statement said.

The grounding is to remain in effect pending further investigation, including examination of information from the aircraft’s flight data and cockpit voice records, the agency said.

But such assurances aren’t mollifying lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has already said it will hold a hearing in coming days on air safety.

“It is important to allow the FAA, NTSB and other agencies to conduct thorough investigations to ensure they have as much information as possible to make informed decisions,” said committee chairman Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., in a written statement.

“Thousands of passengers every day depend on the aviation system to get them safely to their destinations, and we must never become complacent with the level of safety in our system. Therefore, the committee plans to hold a hearing reviewing the state of aviation safety to ensure that safety is maintained for all travelers,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who sits on the committee, told CNN he’s told his family and others to switch planes rather than fly on the Boeing 737 MAX 8.

“There should be a full investigation but in the meantime, better safe than sorry,” Blumenthal, said. He added the planes are “unsafe at any speed right now.”

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