President Donald Trump has issued an emergency order to take Boeing’s 737 Max 8 and Max 9 planes out of the sky, a few days after many other countries had grounded the planes, after a furor from passengers and lawmakers. Boeing supported Trump's move.
The Max 8 jets had already been grounded by most countries across the world out of fear the planes are unsafe, following two fatal crashes in less than six months. But as late as Wednesday afternoon, the jets were still in the air in the U.S.
"All of those planes are grounded effectively immediately," Trump said.
The U.S. till now was perhaps the only nation still flying Max 8s. Canada, one of the final holdouts, announced Wednesday it would ground the planes after pressure from lawmakers, passengers, and aviation workers. The European Union stunned Tuesday when it announced that the planes would not be allowed to take flight anywhere in Europe. China, Argentina, Mexico, Mongolia, Turkey, Singapore, and virtually every other nation that flies the planes also made the decision.
Boeing will also recommend a temporary suspension of the planes to the Federal Aviation Administration "out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety.”
On Sunday, one of the Boeing planes crashed in Ethiopia shortly after takeoff and killed 157 people: at least 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians, nine French, nine Ethiopians, eight each from the United States, China and Italy, and seven from the United Kingdom, according to reports. It’s the second time a 737 Max 8 flight has ended in carnage in just a few months. In October, a 737 Max 8 took off in Indonesia and crashed shortly after, killing all 189 on board.
Here’s what you need to know about the grounding.
Why weren’t the flights grounded in the U.S. until now?
Two U.S. airlines — Southwest and American — fly the 737 Max 8 and both had refused to take them out of the sky. Between the two airlines, 58 of the planes are currently in use. The airlines said they'd analyzed a huge amount of flight data and saw no actual reason to ground the aircraft.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the U.S. would take the planes out of the sky if needed, but as of Wednesday she saw “no basis” to do so. She flew in one herself Wednesday, apparently to show support for the embattled aircraft manufacturer.
Although the planes remained in use in the U.S., President Trump appeared to jump in on the speculation Tuesday when he tweeted that planes were getting too complicated to fly.
“I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot,” Trump tweeted. “I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!”
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg reportedly called Trump on Tuesday after seeing the president’s tweets to try to convince him that the 737 Max 8 planes were safe. (The company donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, and Trump has previously bragged about making money on Boeing stock.)
Are they actually dangerous?
According to U.S. regulators, airlines, and Boeing: no. Commercial air travel is statistically extremely safe.
Still, records show that Boeing pilots complained at least five times about flying the 737 Max 8 in the last few months, according to Politico. In one case, a commercial airline pilot reported that they turned on autopilot and "within two to three seconds the aircraft pitched nose down.” The plane reportedly returned to normal after autopilot was disengaged.
Several months ago, one captain called the flight manual "inadequate and almost criminally insufficient,” according to the Dallas Morning News. Numerous safety questions about the plane have been raised since the crashes, including whether pilots received adequate training. The New York Times reported before the Ethiopian Airlines crash Boeing and the FAA determined that pilots didn’t need to know about a change in the 737 flight control system that could make aircraft prone to stalling.
A witness to the Ethiopian Airlines crash told the Associated Press that smoke was ejecting from the rear of the plane before the impact and the plane rotated twice before crashing and exploding.
The U.S. being the only major nation still flying the jets also has alarmed flight passengers, as well as American lawmakers.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 presidential candidate, and Mitt Romney called on the FAA to ground the planes while investigators looked into the Ethiopian Airlines crash. In a joint letter to the FAA’s acting administrator, Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal urged for the grounding of the flights in light of questions raised about pilot training and complaints for the aircraft.
A grounded Boeing 737 MAX 8 passenger plane belonging to Norwegian Airlines is parked on the tarmac at Helsinki Vantaa airport in Vantaa, Finland, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. The European Union has banned Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes from its airspace in response to the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 people on board. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)