Donald Trump has ordered the grounding of Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft, reversing a decision by US regulators to keep the planes flying in the wake of a deadly crash in Ethiopia.
“The safety of the American people, and all people, is our paramount concern,” Mr Trump said, adding there was “new information and physical evidence" from the crash site of the Boeing jet which fell to earth shortly after take off on Sunday, killing all 157 on board.
“Boeing is an incredible company. They are working very, very hard right now and hopefully they’ll very quickly come up with the answer, but until they do, the planes are grounded.”
The Ethiopian jet performed a similar erratic ascent to that of a 737 Max 8 jet operated by Lion Air which crashed in Indonesia in October, killing 189 people.
Some 42 countries have since banned flights by the jets as a precautionary measure but America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had resisted calls, insisting that it had seen “no systemic performance issues”.
In Consultation with the FAA, NTSB and its Customers, Boeing Supports Action to Temporarily Ground 737 MAX Operations: https://t.co/YGgmgAZK3O pic.twitter.com/5bnxevuzlD
— Boeing Airplanes (@BoeingAirplanes) March 13, 2019
Mr Trump’s emergency order came hours after Canada, which works closely with the FAA, took the decision to ground the aircraft – leaving the US as the only major country still operating the planes.
Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the country had taken the decision after satellite data suggested similarities between the flight profiles of the Ethiopian jet and the crash in Indonesia last year.
In a statement, Boeing said it "continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max" but had suspended all 371 of its global fleet "out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public".
“On behalf of the entire Boeing team, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives in these two tragic accidents,” said Dennis Muilenburg, the company’s chief executive.
The 737 Max is Boeing’s best-selling jet ever and had been forecast to be a major profit driver for the company, with around 5,000 of the planes on order.
On Tuesday morning Mr Muilenburg had made a personal appeal to Mr Trump in a phone call on Tuesday reassuring the president of the fleet’s safety, according to the New York Times.
Airlines with Boeing 737 Max 8s in their fleet
The decision to ground the jets, run by two of of America’s largest airlines, caused significant travel chaos in the US on Wednesday night. Southwest Airlines has the world’s largest 737 MAX fleet with 34 jets and American Airlines, the largest airline in the world, operates 24 of the aircraft.
It also emerged on Wednesday that American pilots had warned of a control problem on the Boeing 737 Max airliner nearly a year before the crash in Ethiopia.
Pilots working for several US airlines reported to US authorities that the jet had a tendency to pitch its nose down as early as April 2018, according to Nasa files seen by US media.
In November, two incidents were reported to the Nasa-run Aviation Safety Reporting Database that involved problems in controlling the 737 MAX at low altitude just after take-off with autopilot engaged, according to documents published by US publications.
"We discussed the departure at length and I reviewed in my mind our automation setup and flight profile but can’t think of any reason the aircraft would pitch nose down so aggressively," one pilot said.
Another pilot called the flight manual “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient”.
The concerns centred around the new Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) which pushes the nose of a climbing aircraft down to prevent it entering into a stall or losing lift. After the Lion Air crash, American pilots’ unions raised concerns over the MCAS system and claimed they had received insufficient training to retake control in the case of a malfunction.
Boeing declined to comment on the reports but has previously said it provided appropriate information to pilots to use an existing procedure to handle the issue affecting the anti-stall system.
Tewolde Gebremariam, the chief executive of Ethiopian Airlines, said the pilot reported having flight-control problems and wanted to return to the airport, but did not indicate any other technical faults or other difficulties during the jet’s short ascent.