The United States has finally decided to ground the Boeing 737 MAX after two fatal crashes in less than six months involving the aircraft model. The decision was apparently made by President Trump who only yesterday Tweeted that he thought “airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly.”
The 45th President of the United States continued “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!”. As is often the case, Trump’s comments were derided by many experts including, on this occasion, seasoned pilots.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2019
The U.S. and its aviation regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had come under increasing pressure to ground the Boeing 737 MAX after regulators around the world one by one issued directives to have the aircraft grounded. In contrast, the FAA had previously maintained that there were “no systemic performance issues” with the aircraft and that other civil aviation authorities had failed to provide “data to us that would warrant action.”
By this morning, most countries had grounded the 737 MAX, with both Canada and the United States being the notable exceptions. When Transport Canada finally bowed to pressure this afternoon to also ground the aircraft, it seemed inevitable that the United States would have to follow suit.
Statement from the FAA…
In a shocking new statement, the FAA said new evidence which came directly from the Ethiopian Airlines crash site was behind its decision. The news will clearly spark questions as to why the FAA and U.S.-based airlines allowed passengers and crew to be placed in danger while the investigation was underway.
— The FAA (@FAANews) March 13, 2019
What aviation workers have to say…
Sara Nelson, the President of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), said the United States had “abdicated leadership” in failing to ground the 737 MAX earlier. Apparently referencing allegations that Boeing’s chairman had personally lobbied President Trump to keep the 737 MAX flying, the Transport Workers Union’s John Samuelsen blamed a “lust for profit in the American aviation” for the FAA’s delay.
This comes as powerful relief, but the core question remains: why did the US abdicate leadership, risking lives, jobs and public faith in the safety of air travel?
— Sara Nelson (@FlyingWithSara) March 13, 2019
How Boeing has responded…
Boeing maintains that it has “full confidence” in the aircraft but in a new statement the Seattle-based aircraft manufacturer said:
“After consultation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and aviation authorities and its customers around the world, Boeing has determined — out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety — to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft.”
Boeing’s president, Dennis Muilenburg continued: “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.
There is no greater priority for our company and our industry. 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.”
In the United States, the three main operators of the Boeing 737 MAX are Southwest Airlines with 34 of the aircraft in its fleet, American Airlines with 26 and United Airlines which has 16 of the MAX 9 variant.
U.S. airlines react…
“Southwest Airlines is immediately complying with today’s FAA requirement for all U.S. airlines to ground the Boeing 737 MAX 8. As a result, we have removed our 34 MAX 8 aircraft from scheduled service. Southwest operates a fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737s, and the 34 MAX 8 aircraft account for less than five percent of our daily flights.”
“During our 48-year history, Southwest has continuously demonstrated our commitment to Safety,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest’s Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. “We sincerely appreciate the trust our Customers and Employees place in our airline every day, and the Southwest Team is working diligently to minimize disruptions to our Customers’ travel plans.”
American told us in an emailed statement: “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.”
American Airlines has 24 aircraft affected by this directive. 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.
Our teams will make every effort to rebook customers as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”
Meanwhile, United Airlines said: “Nothing is more important to United Airlines than the safety of our customers and employees. As we have said since Sunday, we have been in close contact with investigators as well as Boeing to share data and fully cooperate with regulatory authorities.
We will comply with the FAA’s order and will ground our 14 737 MAX aircraft. We will remain in close touch with authorities as their investigation continues.
Since Sunday, we have been working diligently on contingency plans to prepare our fleet to minimize the impact to customers. Our MAX aircraft account for roughly 40 flights a day and through a combination of spare aircraft and rebooking customers, we do not anticipate a significant operational impact as a result of this order. We will continue to work with our customers to help minimize any disruption to their travel.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.