FAA Grounds Boeing 737 Max Planes After Crashes - Rolling Stone
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Long After the Rest of the World, FAA Grounds Malfunctioning Boeing Planes

Why did the Trump administration wait so long to act?

Editorial use only. HANDOUT /NO SALESMandatory Credit: Photo by BOEING HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (10150384b)A handout artists rendering made available 11 March 2019 by Boeing Company showing a 737 MAX 8 passenger plane in Boeing colours. An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 passenger plane en route to Nairobi, Kenya, crashed near Bishoftu, some 50km outside of the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 10 March 2019. All passengers onboard the scheduled flight ET 302 carrying 149 passengers and 8 crew members, have died, the airlines said. Boeing has sent a crew to the accident site to help in investigations. Some other airlines have grounded their planes of the same type.Ethiopian Airlines plane en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi crashed, --, -- - 16 Mar 2018

A rendering of the Boeing 737 Max 8

BOEING HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

President Trump on Wednesday announced that all Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircrafts will be grounded until they can be determined safe. “We’re going to be issuing an emergency order of prohibition to ground all flights of the 737 Max 8 and the 737 Max 9 and planes associated with that line,” he said from the White House, adding that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, acting Federal Aviation Administration chief Dan Elwell and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg agreed with the decision.

The order comes as the FAA has been scrutinized for its reluctance to ground the aircraft, which has crashed twice in the last few months, most recently on Sunday when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 went down en route to Kenya, killing all 157 people on board. In October, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed in Indonesia, killing all 189 passengers. On Monday, the FAA released a statement assuring Americans that it was still investigating what caused the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, and that it would take “immediate and appropriate action.” Another statement was released on Tuesday, this one noting that though they are continuing to investigate, “our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft.” Once again, it assured Americans that it will take “immediate and appropriate action” should its assessment change.

The statements weren’t very reassuring, especially after it was reported on Tuesday night that American pilots have complained at least five times in recent months about issues controlling the Max 8, which unlike a standard Boeing 737, relies on an automated system to correct balance issues caused by its larger engine. It was determined that pilots being unable to override a malfunctioning system is what caused Lion Air Flight 610 to crash, and evidence has suggested that a similar issue may have cause the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on Sunday.

On Wednesday morning, Canadian Minister of Transport Mark Garneau announced that he has decided to ban the Boeing 737 Max 8 from the nation’s airspace, leaving the United States as the only prominent nation yet to ban the Max 8. In a press conference, Garneau said that his team feels that a “threshold has been crossed” after examining data concerning the Max 8. “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.”

The information that prompted Garneau’s decision was reportedly provided to the FAA two days ago.

Europe, China, Australia, India, Egypt and other parts of the world grounded the Max 8 in the wake of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on Sunday. Following the United Kingdom’s decision to ground the aircraft, Trump on Tuesday morning tweeted a bizarre criticism of aviation technology. “Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly,” wrote the president. “Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT. I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better. Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost yet very little gain. 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!”

Some were quick to note the similarities between the president’s tweet and an old one by noted Weird Twitter account @dril.

After posting the tweets — which, unlike the statements of several lawmakers, did not call for the aircraft to be grounded — Trump reportedly talked to Muilenberg over the phone, with the Boeing CEO telling Trump that the aircraft were safe. Following the president’s announcement on Wednesday, Boeing issued a statement expressing “full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX.” Nevertheless, the statement read, the company agreed with the decision to ground the planes “out of an abundance of caution.”

The FAA followed with a statement claiming the decision was made not out of an “abundance of caution,” but based on new evidence gathered on Wednesday. “The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today,” it read. “This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision.”

Though Trump said in announcing the grounding that airlines had been notified, this may not have been the case. Following the announcement, Southwest Airlines released a statement noting that it was still “seeking confirmation and additional guidance from the FAA.”

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