[New York Times] – President Trump announced that the United States was grounding Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft, reversing an earlier decision by American regulators to keep the jets flying in the wake of a second deadly crash involving one of the jets in Ethiopia.
The Federal Aviation Administration had for days resisted calls to ground the plane even as safety regulators in some 42 countries had banned flights by the jets. As recently as Tuesday, the agency said it had seen “no systemic performance issues” that would prompt it to halt flights of the jet.
“The safety of the American people, of all people, is our paramount concern,” Mr. Trump said.
The order came hours after Canada’s transport minister said that newly available satellite-tracking data suggested similarities between the crash in Ethiopia and another accident last October.
The crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 killed all 157 people on board, and took place just minutes after takeoff. In October, a 737 Max 8 operated by Lion Air, an Indonesian carrier, crashed in similar circumstance and 189 people were killed.
Marc Garneau, Canada’s transport minister, had said that satellite tracing data showing the vertical path of the Ethiopian jet at take off and similar data from the Lion Air crash, had showed similar “vertical fluctuations” and “oscillations.”
The groundings in North America also come after Ethiopian Airlines said that one of two pilots on Sunday’s flight reported “flight-control problems” to air traffic controllers minutes before the plane crashed and told controllers that he wanted to turn back to Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. The pilot was cleared to do so, three minutes before contact was lost with the cockpit, a spokesman for the airline said on Wednesday.
The disclosure suggests that a problem with the handling of the aircraft or the computerized flight control system could have been a factor. There has been no suggestion so far of terrorism or other outside interference in the functioning of the aircraft, which was only a few months old.
Officials examining the Indonesia crash have raised the possibility that a new flight-control system could have contributed to that earlier accident. As they banned flights by the aircraft this week, some safety regulators cited concerns that pilots would be unable to handle the aircraft if they were given inaccurate signals from key flight instruments.
The accidents have put Boeing on the defensive. The 737 Max is Boeing’s best-selling jet ever and expected to be a major driver of profit with around 5,000 of the planes on order.
Following the Indonesia crash, Boeing was expected to updated its software and training guidelines so that airlines can teach their pilots to fly the planes more safely and easily. That software update is planned for April.
“Boeing is an incredible company,” Mr. 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.”
On Tuesday morning, Boeing’s chief executive, Dennis A. Muilenburg, had called Mr. Trump to personally express his confidence in the safety of the jets, according to two people briefed on the conversation.
The brief call had already been in the works, but it happened to come shortly after Mr. Trump raised concerns that airplanes were becoming too complex to fly and therefore endangering passengers. “Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT,” he wrote on Twitter.