- "Safety of the American people is our paramount concern," said Trump
- New info from Ethiopian Airlines flight wreckage led to the decision
- Similarities emerged between Ethiopia crash, earlier crash in Indonesia
The FAA developed new information from the wreckage of a 737 crash in Ethiopia that painted similarities to an earlier crash in Indonesia, leading the agency to ground all Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft in the U.S., three people familiar with the matter said.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday grounded all Boeing 737 Max 8 planes, effective immediately. The wording in the emergency order is similar to that used by Canadian officials who hours earlier had issued an order grounding the planes.
"Any plane currently in the air will go to its destination and thereafter be grounded until further notice," Trump said. "The safety of the American people, and all people, is our paramount concern."
The order states that the similarities "warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents that needs to be better understood and addressed."
Trump's announcement followed one by Canada's transportation minister grounding all the jets, saying a review of satellite-tracking data by his country's experts found similarities between Sunday's crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet and an October Lion Air crash.
The news had left the United States and its carriers as the last major users of the aircraft.
Shortly after 3 p.m. the FAA issued a statement confirming the order.
"The FAA is ordering the temporary grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S. territory." the statement said. "The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today. This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision."
The order temporarily halts all flights of the Boeing Max 8 and Max 9 planes, effective immediately.
"On March 13, 2019, the investigation of the (Ethiopian Airlines) crash developed new information from the wreckage concerning the aircraft's configuration just after takeoff that, taken together with newly refined data from satellite-based tracking of the aircraft's flight path, indicates some similarities" between the Ethiopia and Indonesia crashes, according to the order.
Once current U.S. flights land, they are grounded, according to the order. Special flight permits may be issued, "including to allow non-passenger carrying flights, as needed, for purposes of flight to a base for storage, production flight testing, repairs, alterations, or maintenance," according to the order.
The order also says "experimental airworthiness certificates" may be issued "to support certification of design changes."
The order will ground more than 70 aircraft and covers 737 Max 8s and Max 9s. The aircraft is used by American and Southwest airlines, which combined have 58 Max 8s in their fleets. United Airlines has 14 of the Max 9 planes.
Boeing said it continues to have full confidence in the safety of both the Max 8 and Max 9, but after consulting with the FAA, the NTSB, aviation authorities and its customers, it decided to suspend operations of its entire global fleet of 371 Max aircraft.
"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," the company said, adding that it supported the FAA's decision.
"We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution," the statement said. "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."
Officials at American Airlines, which earlier in the day had reiterated its belief that the planes were safe to fly, said the aircraft were being grounded out of "an abundance of caution."
"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," the airline said.
"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," the airline said. "Our teams will be working to rebook customers as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience."
Southwest said it "is immediately complying" with the FAA order, noting that it operates a fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737s and that the 34 Max 8s in it's fleet "account for less than five percent of our daily flights."
"We have been in constant contact with the FAA and Boeing since Ethiopian Airlines' accident last Sunday," the airline said. "While we remain confident in the MAX 8 after completing more than 88,000 flight hours accrued over 41,000 flights, we support the actions of the FAA and other regulatory agencies and governments across the globe that have asked for further review of the data - including information from the flight data recorder - related to the recent accident involving the MAX 8."
Southwest board Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly said: "During our 48-year history, Southwest has continuously demonstrated our commitment to Safety. 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."
Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he issued the "safety notice" after newly available data were reviewed Wednesday morning.
"At this point, we feel that that threshold has been crossed and that is why we are taking these measures," Garneau said.
Garneau said the safety notice halts Boeing 737 Max aircraft from arriving, departing or using Canadian airspace, effective immediately. The notice also covers the Max 9.
Garneau said the new information reviewed Wednesday is satellite-tracking data that are collected when an aircraft takes off. He said the data provides an indication of the plane's course and its vertical profile.
"My experts have looked at this and compared it to the flight that occurred with Lion Air six months ago in October, and . . . there are similarities that sort of exceed a certain threshold in our minds with respect to the possible cause of what happened in Ethiopia," he said.
At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Elwell, of the FAA, said delays in getting the damaged flight data recorders to a place where information could be retrieved contributed to the agency's decision to ground the planes now. Ethiopia has the capability to read black boxes, he said, but not heavily damaged ones as in this case.
The plan is to have them on a plane to France Wednesday night, he said.
"We had been hopeful all along, with the black boxes being discovered so soon after the incident, that we could get them on a table and start pulling data to help us inform our decision one way or another" about whether to ground the airplanes, Elwell said. "That process was lengthened more than I had hoped, to the point where the boxes still are in Ethiopia. But at least now we have a plan to get them out of country."
Elwell said that, per international protocol, Ethiopia is taking the lead - "their soil, their aircraft, their airline," he said.
But he said that U.S. inspectors have been cooperating with their Ethiopian counterparts from the onset of the tragedy and that they will continue to do so. "Together, FAA and (the National Transportation Safety Board) are helping Ethiopian accident investigation board," he said.
In a preliminary report of the Oct. 29 Lion Air crash, a device known as an "angle of attack" sensor mistakenly indicated that the plane's nose was too high, prompting the plane's automation software to push the plane downward. The Lion Air pilots fought to raise the plane's nose but were unable to stop the plane from crashing into the Java Sea.
In November, An American Airlines spokesman said the airline followed all procedures outlined by Boeing and in a separate emergency directive from the FAA in the wake of the Lion Air crash.
American Airlines said Wednesday that it has reviewed data for more than 14,000 flights since the Lion Air Flight 610 crash and has not seen a single anomaly related to the sensor.
Spokesman Ross Feinstein said the airline had complied with an FAA airworthiness directive after the Indonesian crash, and he said the directive "reiterated existing, well-established procedures for Max 8 pilots."
American's fleet of 24 Max 8 aircraft began operation in November 2017 and have a combined total of more than 46,400 operating hours.
Officials around the world have cited the continued absence of clear information from the Ethiopian Air plane to call for Boeing 737 Max 8 jets to be grounded.
After China grounded the planes on Monday, most countries followed suit, including much of Europe. The latest bans were issued by India, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Turkey and Hong Kong.
Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told CNN on Tuesday that the pilot reported "flight control problems" and asked to return to the airport.
Tewolde said the boxes would be sent abroad "because we don't have the equipment here" to analyze their data.
While Tewolde said the cause of the crash was not yet clear, he cast doubt on the airworthiness of the 737 Max.
"Two major fatal accidents on the same airplane model, brand new airplane model, in six months - so there are a lot of questions to be answered on the airplane," he said.
In remarks to local media, Tewolde also revealed that pilots received additional training from Boeing to fly the 737 Max after the Indonesia.
"After the Lion Air crash, questions were raised, so Boeing sent further instructions that it said pilots should know," he said, according to The Associated Press. "Those relate to the specific behavior of this specific type of aircraft. As a result, training was given by Boeing, and our pilots have taken it and put it into our manuals."
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)