President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S. government will ground the Boeing 737 Max aircraft, days after an Ethiopian Airiness plane crashed and killed all 157 people aboard.
Trump will issue an "emergency order to ground all 737 Max 8 and the 737 Max 9, and planes associated with that line," according to CNN. "Pilots have been notified, airlines have been all notified. Airlines are agreeing with this. The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern," the president added, explaining that both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration were "in agreement."
The plane that crashed in Ethiopia is similar to the Boeing Max 8 model that went down off the coast of Indonesia last October. It's still not exactly clear what caused the Ethiopian Airlines crash. But in announcing that his country would be grounding Boeing 737 Max aircraft on Tuesday, Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau mentioned a "possible similarity" between both incidents, according to CBS News.
Similar "vertical fluctuations" and "oscillations" were evident in the tracing data from both flights, The New York Times reported Garneau as saying. In addition to Canada, governments from the European Union, China, and Iraq have also grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 planes. FAA Administrator Dan Elwell preiously said in a statement Tuesday the agency's review of the 737 Max model "shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft." A Trump administration official did tell Politico that the White House and the FAA were in "constant contact" regarding the issue. Now, it appears the administration has decided otherwise.
"The FAA is ordering the temporary grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S. territory," the FAA said in a statement. "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."
It is important to note that there's no universal consensus on whether the groundings are necessary. That's because there isn't yet clear-cut evidence that the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes were related. While the plane that crashed last October had technical issues prior to takeoff, the Ethiopian Airlines flight did not. Retired airline pilot and current accident investigator John Cox explained in a Los Angeles Times column why we shouldn't jump to conclusions:
Until the data from the recorders are analyzed, the FAA cannot determine if an "unsafe condition" exists. And only if they determine that an "unsafe condition" exists can they ground the airplane. Unless the actions the FAA takes are consistently based on facts and data, then they aren't actually enhancing safety.
In the aftermath of an aviation catastrophe, everyone wants an immediate answer to ensure it doesn't happen again. The news media highlight the questions and fears in their daily (or hourly) updates. Anxiety mounts. In this case we need to let the well-proven investigative process work. This process takes time, and we have to be patient.
As Reason's Stephanie Slade has pointed out, in the aftermath of deadly tragedies, airlines will voluntarily take precautions to ensure safety so that passengers aren't afraid to fly with them. The same goes for plane manufacturers like Boeing.