Trump said he came to the decision after speaking with Boeing’s CEO, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and the acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Daniel Elwell.
“They are all in agreement with the action. Any plane currently in the air will go to its destination and thereafter be grounded until further notice,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday.
The FAA followed suit shortly after Trump’s comments:
“The FAA is ordering the temporary grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S. territory. 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 grounding will remain in effect pending further investigation, including examination of information from the aircraft’s flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders. An FAA team is in Ethiopia assisting the NTSB as parties to the investigation of the Flight 302 accident. The agency will continue to investigate.”
The move marks a stunning turnaround for the U.S., which has stood by the American-made aircraft as dozens of countries around the world ground the planes.
The crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 came less than five months after a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max 8 plunged into the Java Sea minutes into the flight, killing all 189 people on board. Both planes were new, delivered from Boeing just months before their doomed flights.
New evidence shows that the track of the plane behaved similarly to the Lion Air flight that went down in October, the FAA’s Elwell told reporters on a call Wednesday.
“It became clear the track was very close and behaved similarly to the Lion Air flight,” Elwell told reporters on a call Wednesday. “My hope is the FAA, the carriers, the manufacturers and all parties will work very hard to make this grounding as short as possible so that these airplanes can get back up in the sky.”
Shares of Boeing slipped by more than 2 percent after Trump’s announcement.
Boeing said it decided to ground its global fleet of 737 Max aircraft in an “abundance of caution” after talking with U.S. aviation regulators.
“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,” CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement. “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.”
Of the more than 370 Boeing 737 Max jets in global fleets, 74 are flown by U.S. airlines, according to the FAA. Those include United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines. Southwest Airlines’ fell by about 1 percent while Delta was about flat.
Trump said, “the safety of the American people, and all people, is our paramount concern. Our hearts go out to all of those who lost loved ones, to their friends, to their families [in both crashes] … it’s a terrible, terrible thing.”
He called Boeing an “incredible company.”
“Hopefully they will very quickly come up with an answer, but until they do the planes are grounded,” Trump added.
The FAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Boeing investors have already lost $26.6 billion in the first two trading days this week with shares sliding 11 percent from $422.54 Friday to $375.41 at Tuesday’s close. The company’s market value fell from $238.7 billion on Friday to $212.1 billion by the end of Tuesday.
It is very uncommon, but not unprecedented, for the FAA to ground all jets of a certain type. In 2013, the agency ordered the then-new Boeing 787 Dreamliners grounded because of lithium-ion battery malfunctions. (They were flying again about three months later.) However, in that case, European regulators and other airlines followed the FAA’s lead. With the Boeing 737 Max planes, the U.S. grew increasingly isolated as country after country decided to ground the jets.
The turnaround by the FAA could suggest that federal officials may have obtained new information from the doomed Ethiopian Airlines plane that went down Sunday. Investigators are analyzing the so-called black boxes that were recovered from the site and contain flight data and voice recordings from the cockpit.
Lawmakers and labor unions representing flight attendants urged airlines and the government to ground the planes. Countries from India to Italy had decided to take the planes out of service, unnerving travelers and putting airlines in the tough position of alienating customers and defending the safety of the plane.
Some airlines like United and Southwest loosened some of their ticket change fees for flyers nervous about traveling on the plane.