Trump grounds Boeing jet involved in fatal crashes

Published on Wednesday, 13 March 2019 19:53
Written by Luz Laz, Michael Laris, LORI Aratani, Felicia Sonmez

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Wednesday grounded all Boeing 737 Max 8 planes, effective immediately.

“Any plane currently in the air will go to its destination and thereafter be grounded until further notice,” Trump said.

“The safety of the American people, and all people, is our paramount concern,” Trump said, adding that top transportation officials would soon make an announcement “regarding the new information and physical evidence that we’ve received from the site, and other locations, and through a couple of other complaints.”

Trump’s announcement followed one by Canada’s transportation minister grounding all the jets, saying a review of satellite-tracking data by his country’s experts found similarities between Sunday’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet and an October Lion Air crash.

The news had left the United States and its carriers as the last major users of the aircraft.

Trump said he has spoken with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, “and they’ll be available shortly after our conference today. They are all in agreement with the action.”

“Pilots have been notified. Airlines have been all notified. Airlines are agreeing with us. The safety of the American people - and all people - is our paramount concern,” the president said. “Our hearts go out to all of those who lost loved ones, to their friends, to their families, in both the Ethiopian and Lion Airlines that involved the 737 Max aircraft. It’s a terrible, terrible thing.”

Shortly after 3 p.m. the FAA issued a statement confirming the official order.

“The FAA is ordering the temporary grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S. territory.” the statement said. “The agency made this decision 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 FAA’s emergency order temporarily halts all flights of the Boeing MAX 8 and MAX 9 planes, effective immediately, “to address an emergency related to safety in air commerce,” the order says.

“On March 13, 2019, the investigation of the [Ethiopian Airlines] crash developed new information from the wreckage concerning the aircraft’s configuration just after takeoff that, taken together with newly refined data from satellite-based tracking of the aircraft’s flight path, indicates some similarities between the” Ethiopia and Indonesia crashes, according to the order.

Those similarities “warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents that needs to be better understood and addressed,” according to the order.

Once current U.S. flights land, they “may not again takeoff,” according to the order. Special flight permits may be issued, “including to allow non-passenger carrying flights, as needed, for purposes of flight to a base for storage, production flight testing, repairs, alterations, or maintenance,” according to the order.

The order also says “experimental airworthiness certificates” may be issued “to support certification of design changes.”

The order will ground more than 70 aircraft and covers both the 737 Max 8 and Max 9, another plane in the series. The aircraft is used by American and Southwest airlines, which combined have 58 Max 8s in their fleets. United Airlines has 14 of the Max 9 planes.

Officials at American Airlines, which earlier in the day had reiterated its belief that the planes were safe to fly, said they were now being grounded out of “an abundance of caution.”

“Earlier today the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) informed us that based on new information, they are grounding the United States Boeing 737 MAX fleet out of an abundance of caution,” the airline said in a statement.

“We appreciate the FAA’s partnership, and will continue to work closely with them, the Department of Transportation, National Transportation Safety Board and other regulatory authorities, as well as our aircraft and engine manufacturers,” the airline said. “Our teams will be working to rebook customers as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”

Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he issued the “safety notice” after the newly-available data was reviewed Wednesday morning.

“At this point, we feel that that threshold has been crossed and that is why we are taking these measures,” Garneau said.

Garneau said the safety notice halts Boeing 737 MAX aircraft from arriving, departing or using Canadian airspace, effective immediately. The notice also covers the Max 9.

Garneau said the new information reviewed Wednesday is satellite tracking data that is collected when an aircraft takes off. He said the data provides an indication of the plane’s course and its vertical profile.

“My experts have looked at this and compared it to the flight that occurred with Lion Air six months ago in October, and . . . there are similarities that sort of exceed a certain threshold in our minds with respect to the possible cause of what happened in Ethiopia,” he said.

The Canadian government’s willingness to publicly answer detailed questions about its decision-making and analysis of the new data is in sharp contrast to the approach taken by the Trump administration.

During a call with reporters Monday to discuss the Transportation Department budget, Chao answered several questions on the country’s response to the crash, saying the FAA would issue an international notice standing behind the plane’s safety. She also said her department would take “immediate and appropriate action” if safety issues were discovered.

But Chao and FAA chief Elwell have provided only limited information since, and their representatives would not discuss whether the new safety information from Canada met their stated threshold for taking action if important new information was revealed.

Graham Braithwaite, professor of safety and accident investigation at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, said air safety “isn’t just a matter of the technical risk, it is also about public perception of risk. Air travel depends on the public trusting the industry and in some cases that requires us to be extra cautious.”

In a preliminary report of the Lion Air crash, a device known as an “angle of attack” sensor mistakenly indicated the plane’s nose was too high, prompting the plane’s automation software to push the plane downward. The Lion Air pilots fought to raise the plane’s nose but were unable to sending the plane crashing into the Java Sea.

An American Airlines spokesman said that in November the airline followed all procedures outlined by Boeing and in a separate emergency directive from the FAA in the wake of the Lion Air crash.

Garneau said travelers should anticipate disruptions as flights were planned for today and coming days on the 41 planes in the country.

“There is some disruption and yes, it’s unfortunate, but we must put safety at the top of the agenda,” he said. “The airlines have been very understanding in dealing with the situation. There will be some disruption, there is no question about.”

Meanwhile, Ethiopian Airlines said Wednesday that it will send the voice and data recorders from its ill-fated Flight 302 to be analyzed in Europe. A spokesman said the country had yet to be chosen.

Officials around the world have cited the continued absence of clear information from the plane to call for Boeing 737 Max 8 jets to be grounded.

The data from the two flight recorders are eagerly awaited as investigators look for any connection between Sunday’s crash and the October crash of Air Lion flight.

After China grounded the plane on Monday, most countries followed suit, including much of Europe. The latest bans were issued by India, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Turkey and Hong Kong.

Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam told CNN on Tuesday that the pilot reported “flight control problems” and asked to return to the airport.

Tewolde said that the boxes would be sent abroad “because we don’t have the equipment here” to analyze their data.

While Tewolde of Ethiopian Airlines said the cause of the crash was not yet clear, hecast doubt on the airworthiness of the 737 Max.

“Two major fatal accidents on the same airplane model, brand new airplane model, in six months - so there are a lot of questions to be answered on the airplane,” he said.

In remarks to local media, Tewolde also revealed that pilots received additional training from Boeing to fly the 737 Max after an Indonesian domestic Lion Air flight crashed into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff last year.

“After the Lion Air crash, questions were raised, so Boeing sent further instructions that it said pilots should know,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “Those relate to the specific behavior of this specific type of aircraft. As a result, training was given by Boeing, and our pilots have taken it and put it into our manuals.”

Posted in The Bristol Press, on Wednesday, 13 March 2019 19:53. Updated: Wednesday, 13 March 2019 19:56.