The US has bowed to international pressure and ordered the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft after days of insisting that the plane was airworthy despite two crashes in five months.
Donald Trump, US president, announced on Wednesday that the country’s Federal Aviation Administration was grounding all of the company’s 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft after receiving updated data on the two crashes.
Mr Trump said: “Any plane currently in the air will go to its destination and be grounded upon landing until further notice.”
He added: “Boeing is an incredible company. They are working very, very hard right now. Hopefully they will very, very quickly come up with an answer, but until then the planes are grounded.”
Mr Trump’s announcement came four days after an Ethiopian Airlines Max 8 aircraft crashed soon after take-off, killing all 157 people on board. That accident followed another crash last October involving the same model of aircraft, operated by Lion Air, which killed 189 people.
In the days that followed the Ethiopian Airlines crash, every other major economy grounded the 737 Max fleet, and by Wednesday afternoon the planes were only operating fully in US air space.
The FAA said it had finally made the decision to follow suit after receiving updated satellite data which showed potential similarities between the flight paths of the two aircraft that crashed.
Dan Elwell, the acting administrator of the FAA, said: “Aireon [a company which tracks flights], Boeing and the National Transportation Safety Board were able to refine the initial return of the satellite to create a description of the flight that made it similar enough to Lion Air to make this decision.”
Boeing said it continued to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max. “However, after consultation with the US FAA, the US National Transportation Safety Board, 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 371 737 Max aircraft.”
Shares of Boeing fell about 2.5 per cent in the immediate wake of the announcement, but rebounded later in the day to close moderately higher at $377.14. The company has lost close to 11 per cent of its value this week.
Fitch, the ratings agency, warned on Thursday that there was a potential for the crisis to become a “systemic issue” amid lengthy groundings, delivery delays and order cancellations.
The US U-turn came a few hours after Canada said it had also received “new data” about Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash that persuaded it to ground the plane, becoming the first major aviation authority to signal that the two accidents could be similar.
Marc Garneau, the Canadian transport minister and a former astronaut, said he had decided to ban the 737 Max from Canadian airspace after government experts reviewed “validated satellite tracking data” that showed a “possible though unproven similarity” between the two accidents.
American and Southwest Airlines, two of the biggest customers for the 737 Max, had been continuing to fly the aircraft until Mr Trump announced the ban. American, which has 24 Max aircraft in its fleet, said it would rebook passengers as soon as possible.
Mr Garneau said he had informed the FAA of the Canadian decision. There was “absolutely no political pressure, absolutely none whatsoever” from the US to keep the planes in the air, he said.
“I urge the public not to jump to conclusions,” the minister added. “We don’t know why the Ethiopian aircraft behaved like it did. It would be a mistake to oversimplify, to say it looks exactly like the Lion Air flight, but it crossed a threshold in our minds.”
Ethiopian Airlines said had sent the so-called black box recording devices from the Boeing jet that crashed on Sunday killing all 157 people to France for analysis, the carrier said.
Dozens of countries around the world have grounded the planes this week. On Wednesday, authorities in Thailand and Vietnam all joined the European and Chinese regulators in banning 737 Max flights from their airspace.
Additional reporting by Sylvia Pfeifer in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited . All rights reserved. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.