US Grounds Boeing 737 Max Planes

President Donald Trump says the U.S. is grounding the model of an American-made jetliner that crashed and killed 157 people Sunday, making it last high-profile country to pull the aircraft out of service.

Trump said “Boeing is an incredible company,” but added “the safety of all people is our paramount concern.”

Earlier Tuesday, Canada banned the new Boeing 737-Max 8 aircraft, which has crashed twice in fewer than five months, killing nearly 350 people.

Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters in Ottawa Wednesday’s decision was made after receiving new satellite data that showed a possible similarity to a previous crash.

 

Canada’s action followed confirmation that the pilot of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 reported internal control problems, while pilots in the U.S. filed at least five complaints in recent months about the aircraft model. Some of the complaints appear to involve the same anti-stall system, according to a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration database. Complaints are filed anonymously to improve the reporting of safety problems.

Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw said the pilot asked to return to Addis Ababa, where the flight had departed. “In fact, he was allowed to turn back,” Begashaw told the Reuters news agency. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg confirmed the pilot’s problems in interviews with The Wall Street Journal and CNN.

The Trump administration had continued to resist growing domestic and international calls to ground the 737 Max 8, even as Trump discussed the issue Tuesday in a phone call with Muilenburg. The Boeing executive reassured Trump the aircraft is safe, company and White House officials confirmed.

Muilenburg called Trump after the president complained Tuesday on Twitter that planes “are becoming far too complex to fly.” The call was in the process of being scheduled prior to Tuesday. The two men have developed a relationship since Trump was elected.

Boeing donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund and the two men met later at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to discuss the new Air Force One presidential aircraft that Boeing is constructing. Trump applauded Muilenburg last June at a National Space Council meeting, calling the CEO a “friend of mine. A great guy.”

Military contractor, lobbying force 

As a key military contractor, Boeing is a major lobbying force in Washington. Boeing spent $15 million on lobbying last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Boeing also has close ties with the U.S. government, particularly with the Federal Aviation Administration.

After decades of using outside experts to certify the safety of aircraft, the FAA changed its approach in 2005 with the creation of a new program through which Boeing and other U.S. aircraft manufacturers could select their own employees to help certify their planes.

About two-thirds of the Boeing 737-Max 8, the company’s newest plane, were pulled from service within two days of Sunday’s crash.

U.S. House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio has suggested the FAA could be conflicted by its roles as an aviation industry advocate and regulator. The Senate plans to conduct a hearing on airline safety.

Trump had resisted calls for the jet to be grounded until the cause of the crashes is found and planned modifications of software are installed for the aircraft’s automatic anti-stall system, which may have played a role in both accidents.

Boeing also said in a statement Tuesday it had no plans to ground the Max 8, while the FAA said its own review of available data shows no basis for doing so.

Boeing announced on Monday that it is developing a “flight control software enhancement for the 737 Max, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer.”

The initial crash of the Max 8 involved a Lion Air domestic flight in Indonesia on Oct. 29, 2018. The plane plunged into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board.  

During Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines flight, the plane nosedived minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa on an international flight to Nairobi, Kenya, witnesses said.

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders from Flight 302 have been recovered, the airline announced on Monday. Begashaw confirmed Wednesday the black box that contains the records will be sent to Europe for analysis. Begashaw did not indicate which country would conduct it.

 

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