President Trump called for all Boeing 737 MAX planes to be grounded on Wednesday in light of the Ethiopian Airlines crash Sunday
The acting administrator of the FAA says they decided to ground the Boeing 737 MAX planes after “new information” suggested that two doomed flights both involving the model were linked.
Daniel Elwell appeared on the Today show Thursday, and said the FAA is inching toward the possibility that the Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed minutes after takeoff Sunday and the Lion Air flight that went down in Indonesia in October are connected.
“We are much closer to that possibility and that’s why we grounded the airplanes,” he said. “We got new information yesterday and we acted on it. It is in our minds now, a link that is close enough to ground the airplanes.”
After host Savannah Guthrie pressed Elwell on why the U.S. waited so long to ground the planes, Elwell explained the FAA makes all decisions based on data.
“We’re a data-driven organization, it’s why U.S. aviation has been so incredibly safe and frankly why aviation has been safe around the world,” he said. “You have to establish at least more than a gut feeling that two crashes are related before you ground an entire fleet.”
Elwell also defended the planes’ use of the MCAS software, an automated system, after Guthrie claimed many pilots said they’d never been trained as to how to properly use it.
“When the accident occurred in Ethiopia, we did a scrub of all of the technical data that we collected, that we gathered,” he said. “For over 40,000 flights in the United States… there was not a single incident in our estimation of this MCAS system being activated or pilots having to work with it or deal with it, so it has not… been an issue.”
Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed six minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board. The airline said at a press conference over the weekend it received the plane, described as “brand new,” in November.
The Guardian reported that the pilot experienced technical problems and asked to return to the airport before the control tower lost contact with the plane.
The Lion Air flight that crashed in October was also a Boeing 737 MAX 8. All 189 passengers were killed when the plane went down after taking off from Jakarta.
President Trump on Wednesday called for the grounding of all Boeing 737 MAX planes in the United States.
“The FAA is preparing to make an announcement very shortly regarding the new information and physical evidence that we’ve received from the [Ethiopia crash site] and from other locations and through a couple of other complaints,” Trump said. “We’ve had a very, very detailed group of people working on the 737 8 and the 737 9 new airplanes. 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.”
Trump said he had met with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Elwell and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, and that they all were in agreement regarding the decision.
The call came in spite of statements from Boeing and the FAA that stated they were standing by their planes.
“Today, the FAA will issue a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) for Boeing 737 MAX operators,” an FAA statement read Monday. “The FAA continuously assesses and oversees the safety performances of U.S. commercial aircraft. If we identify an issue that affects safety, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action.”
Boeing, meanwhile, said Tuesday it had “full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX.”
The FAA ultimately reversed course Wednesday, saying in a statement that the decision was made “as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today.”
The planes will remain grounded pending further investigation.
Other countries including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Australia, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have also grounded the model.
Trump also weighed in on Twitter, writing that he believes planes are “becoming far too complex to fly.”
“Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT,” he wrote. “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.”
Before Wednesday, the North American carriers who were continuing to fly their 787 MAX 8 planes include Southwest, American Airlines, Air Canada and WestJet. United does not have any MAX 8s in its fleet, but does fly the MAX 9. Delta does not fly any MAX models.