President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the United States will ground all Boeing 737 Max planes immediately, becoming the last country banning such flights after Sunday’s deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash.
“Pilots have been notified, airlines have been all notified. Airlines are agreeing with this. The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern,” Trump said from the White House.
US carriers including American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines fly Max 8 planes.
Trump said new information about the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 had led his administration to order the immediate grounding of the aircraft.
In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that its ordering a temporary grounding of Boeing 737 Max aircraft, citing “new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today,” and “refined satellite data.”
Boeing said it supported the FAA and the Trump administration’s decision. The company said it recommended the FAA to temporarily suspend the global operations of all its 371 Max aircrafts.
“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,” said Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg in a statement.
Boeing and the FAA said for several days that they had no plans to ground the aircraft.
The US and Canada had been the only two countries still flying the aircraft on Wednesday. To date, 385 Max aircraft have been delivered, according to Flight Global, of which 344 are the Max 8 variant.
Hours before Trump’s announcement, Canada’s Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said they will no longer allow the 737 Max 8 or 9 aircraft to take off or land in Canada, nor will they allow aircraft to fly over its airspace.
Egypt, Hong Kong, Lebanon and New Zealand joined dozens of other countries, on Wednesday, banning all Boeing Max aircraft from their airspace as an extra safety precaution.
The Ethiopian Airlines Boeing Max 8 jet plummeted into a field shortly after leaving Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport on Sunday morning, killing 157 people. One of the pilots reported flight control problems and asked to return to the base.
As investigators search for clues into the cause of the disaster, some aviation experts are drawing parallels to the Lion Air Boeing Max 8 plane that went down last October over the Java Sea in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board.
Garneau said satellite tracking data that is collected when certain aircraft take off — specifically the vertical profile of the aircraft — was analyzed by officials and was the reason they decided to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 over Canadian airspace.
While not conclusive, Garneau said their were similarities in the new data they analyzed and the doomed Lion Air flight that caused them to feel a threshold had been crossed to halt those flights.
The Max 9 model has never crashed, but it was included in an FAA emergency airworthiness directive following the Lion Air crash last year. A Max 10 model is still in development.
China’s aviation administration was the first to order a suspension on Monday evening, grounding all domestic Boeing 737 Max 8 jets, citing its principle of “zero tolerance for safety hazards.”
China has one of the world’s largest fleets of Boeing 737 Max 8s, operating 97 of the planes, according to Chinese state-run media.
The fallout for Boeing and its future in China could be severe for investors: China is predicted to soon to become the world’s first trillion-dollar market for jets.
In a statement, Boeing said it continued to have “full confidence” in the safety of the 737 Max 8 aircraft, but said it understands the decisions made by customers.
On its official Twitter account, the company also reiterated that safety remains its priority.
Daniel K. Elwell, the acting administrator of the FAA, said it has conducted a review of the Boeing 737 Max 8 and found “no basis” to ground the aircraft.
As the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes are still under investigation, there is no evidence that they had a common cause.
The black boxes from the Ethiopian Airlines plane were recovered on Monday, which will enable investigators to learn more about the cause of the crash. On Wednesday, Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw told CNN the “black box” data recorders recovered will “definitely be going to Europe,” as Ethiopia does not have the necessary equipment to analyze that data.
Begashaw said they haven’t decided which country the black boxes will go to yet.
In the meantime, some aviation experts are focusing on the similarities between the two incidents.
“Given in both air crashes, the aircrafts were newly delivered Boeing 737 Max 8, and both accidents occurred during the take-off, they share certain similarities,” the Chinese administration said in a statement.
Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam told CNN that the company’s pilots had received additional training on the flight procedures involving the 737 Max 8 after the Lion Air crash.
“We believe the similarities are substantial” between the two crashes, GebreMariam said, adding that both incidents featured new models of the same airplane, and both flights lasted only minutes before the planes went down.
“We don’t yet know the exact cause of the accident, and speculation is not helpful in either way,” GebreMariam said, “but I think there are questions without answers on the airplane.”
Still, aviation safety experts, regulators and pilots around the world remain divided on whether the Boeing 737 Max 8 is safe.
“I’ve never said that it’s unsafe to fly a particular model of aircraft, but in this case, I’m going to have to go there,” David Soucie, a former FAA safety inspector, told CNN, saying passengers don’t have enough information.
On Wednesday, the Air Canada Pilots Association applauded Canada’s decision, saying that they supported the decision “to be proactive and take steps, consistent with other jurisdictions, to help ensure the safety of the Canadian traveling public.”
But other pilots disagree. The pilots union at Southwest Airlines, which had the largest fleet of Max 8s flying before Wednesday’s grounding in the US, stood by their airline’s decision.
In a Southwest Airlines Pilot Association letter, union president Jonathan Weaks said the union is “extremely confident” that the 737 Max is safe.
He added that he would put his family, friends and loved ones on any Southwest flight, but that he has lobbied for training to “evolve and improve.”
The letter warns, however, that if new information comes to light, the union “will not hesitate to hold any organization or person accountable.”
— CNN’s CHUCK JOHNSTON CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT