A now-destroyed Boeing 737 MAX belonging to Ethiopian Airlines
ET-AVJ, the aircraft destroyed in Sunday's fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. (Photo: LLGB Spotter, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Boe­ing’s next gen­er­a­tion 737 MAX jets will stay on the ground for the imme­di­ate future — even in the Unit­ed States, where the Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion had, until today, held off on for­bid­ding air­lines from fly­ing them.

The ground­ing order comes after two fright­en­ing 737 MAX hull loss inci­dents in the span of only six months: PK-LQP (belong­ing to Indone­si­a’s Lion Air, which crashed Octo­ber 29th, 2018) and ET-AVJ (belong­ing to Ethiopi­an Air­lines, which crashed on March 10th, 2019). One hun­dred and eighty nine peo­ple were killed in the Lion Air crash, while one hun­dred and fifty-sev­en peo­ple were killed in the Ethiopi­an Air crash, includ­ing a num­ber of Unit­ed Nations personnel.

In remarks to reporters at the White House a short time ago, Don­ald Trump called Boe­ing “an incred­i­ble com­pa­ny” and said of CEO Den­nis Muilen­burg and his top man­agers: “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.”

Boe­ing issued the fol­low­ing statement:

Boe­ing con­tin­ues to have full con­fi­dence in the safe­ty of the 737 MAX.  How­ev­er, after con­sul­ta­tion with the U.S. Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion (FAA), the U.S. Nation­al Trans­porta­tion Safe­ty Board (NTSB), and avi­a­tion author­i­ties and its cus­tomers around the world, 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 three hun­dred and sev­en­ty-one 737 MAX aircraft.

“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, pres­i­dent, CEO, Chair­man of The Boe­ing Company.

“We are sup­port­ing this proac­tive step out of an abun­dance of cau­tion. Safe­ty is a core val­ue at Boe­ing for as long as we have been build­ing air­planes; and it always will be.”

“There is no greater pri­or­i­ty for our com­pa­ny and our indus­try. 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.”

Boe­ing makes this rec­om­men­da­tion and sup­ports the deci­sion by the FAA [Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Administration].

Nat­u­ral­ly, Boe­ing neglect­ed to men­tion that Den­nis Muilen­burg had lob­bied against this move ear­li­er today. Hav­ing failed to per­suade the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment not to ground the 737 MAX, the com­pa­ny has now per­formed an about-face and claims to sup­port this deci­sion. Their actions behind the scenes belie their pub­lic words.

The ground­ing of the 737 MAX could cost Boe­ing bil­lions of dol­lars, so it’s no sur­prise that the com­pa­ny did­n’t want this to happen.

But the safe­ty of the fly­ing pub­lic is more impor­tant than Boe­ing’s profits.

South­west Air­lines, the largest oper­a­tor of the 737 MAX in the Unit­ed States, issued its own state­ment say­ing it was com­ply­ing with the order.

South­west Air­lines is imme­di­ate­ly com­ply­ing with today’s FAA require­ment for all U.S. air­lines to ground the Boe­ing 737 MAX 8. As a result, we have removed our 34 MAX 8 air­craft from sched­uled ser­vice. South­west oper­ates a fleet of more than 750 Boe­ing 737s, and the 34 MAX 8 air­craft 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. 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.

The Safe­ty of our Cus­tomers and Employ­ees is our uncom­pro­mis­ing pri­or­i­ty, and today’s action reflects the com­mit­ment to sup­port­ing the cur­rent inves­ti­ga­tions and reg­u­la­to­ry concerns.

Our goal is to oper­ate our sched­ule with every avail­able air­craft in our fleet to meet our Cus­tomers’ expec­ta­tions dur­ing the busy spring trav­el sea­son. Addi­tion­al­ly, to sup­port our Cus­tomers, South­west is offer­ing flex­i­ble rebook­ing poli­cies. Any Cus­tomer booked on a can­celled MAX 8 flight can rebook on alter­nate flights with­out any addi­tion­al fees or fare dif­fer­ences with­in 14 days of their orig­i­nal date of trav­el between the orig­i­nal city pairs. A Trav­el Advi­so­ry with addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion for Cus­tomers will be post­ed on Southwest.com.

“Dur­ing our 48-year his­to­ry, South­west has con­tin­u­ous­ly demon­strat­ed our com­mit­ment to Safe­ty,” said Gary Kel­ly, South­west­’s Chair­man of the Board and Chief Exec­u­tive Officer.

“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.”

Mean­while, Unit­ed Air­lines said it believed it could com­ply with the order with no “sig­nif­i­cant” oper­a­tional impact to its cus­tomers.

Noth­ing is more impor­tant to us than the safe­ty of our cus­tomers and employ­ees. As we have said since Sun­day, we have been in close con­tact with inves­ti­ga­tors as well as Boe­ing to share data and ful­ly coop­er­ate with reg­u­la­to­ry author­i­ties. We will com­ply with the FAA’s order and will ground our 14 Boe­ing 737 MAX air­craft. We will remain in close con­tact with author­i­ties as their inves­ti­ga­tion continues.

Since Sun­day, we have been work­ing dili­gent­ly on con­tin­gency plans to pre­pare our fleet to min­i­mize the impact to customers.

Our Boe­ing 737 MAX air­craft account for rough­ly 40 flights a day and through a com­bi­na­tion of spare air­craft and rebook­ing cus­tomers, we do not antic­i­pate a sig­nif­i­cant oper­a­tional impact as a result of this order. We will con­tin­ue to work with our cus­tomers to help min­i­mize any dis­rup­tion to their trav­el plans.

Alas­ka Air­lines, the Pacif­ic North­west­’s largest car­ri­er and the only big U.S. air­line based in Cas­ca­dia, does not yet fly the 737 MAX, so it is unaf­fect­ed by the jet’s ground­ing. How­ev­er, Alas­ka does have a num­ber of the jets on order.

It would have been pru­dent for the FAA to have made this deci­sion on Sunday.

Now the Unit­ed States looks like a lag­gard instead of the leader it says it is.

Once again, the Trump regime has failed the peo­ple of the Unit­ed States.

Not only did the Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion fail to swift­ly ground the 737 MAX when it should have on Sun­day after the crash of EA 302, but it turns out that work Boe­ing was under­tak­ing to improve the soft­ware pow­er­ing MAX’s flight con­trol sys­tem was delayed by Trump’s ludi­crous deci­sion not to sign leg­is­la­tion to keep the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment ful­ly open for busi­ness and func­tion­ing properly.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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