US President Donald Trump issued an emergency order Wednesday to ground all Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 planes, after a weekend crash in Ethiopia left 157 people dead.
Trump’s decision is a reversal of the US position in recent days and comes as country after country moved to ground the planes until a safety assessment can be made. The same Boeing model was involved in a Lion Air plane crash in Indonesia last year that killed 189 people.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the decision was based on “new evidence” and refined satellite data.
Boeing issued a statement saying it was supporting the temporary grounding “out of an abundance of caution.”
The administration has been under pressure from lawmakers and former transportation officials to take precautionary measures to protect the public.
“All of those planes are grounded effective immediately,” Trump said, referring to the Boeing 737 MAX models. “They don’t know the problem, it could be lots of different things. So they have to find it, and they will find it.”
Trump, calling the weekend crash “tragic,” said he was in contact with Boeing, which he called an “incredible company,” and with US airlines, implying the decision was taken in coordination with the industry.
The president said the safety of air travellers was of “paramount concern.”
“We didn’t have to make this decision today. We could have delayed it. We maybe didn’t have to make it at all,” Trump said at the White House. “I felt it was important both psychologically and a lot of other ways,” he said.
The FAA said the grounding will remain in effect until the Ethiopian Airlines flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders are examined and further investigations are carried out.
“The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today,” the FAA said in a statement.
Boeing chief Dennis Muilenburg issued a statement saying the company was backing the temporary suspension of all 737 MAX models.
“We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution,” he said.
“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,” Muilenburg said in a statement.
Late on Wednesday, Brazil and Mexico followed Washington’s lead.
Mexico suspended “until further notice” all national and international flights of 737 MAX 8 and 9 aircraft.
Brazil only suspended flights of 737 MAX 9 jets “effective immediately.”
The US announcement came shortly after Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced it was grounding the planes, citing new information from aviation experts that suggests “similarities” between the Ethiopian crash and one in October last year.
The FAA also said there were “some similarities” between the two flights “that warrant further investigations of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents that needs to be better understood and addressed.”
Boeing’s stock price rebounded off lows this week. While it was in the red for the first two days of the week, shares closed in positive territory on Wednesday.
Anguished relatives of the Ethiopian Airlines victims were able to visit the crash site on Wednesday, as the company announced it was sending the plane’s black box to Europe for investigation.
Images from the scene showed distraught family members breaking down and the blackened earth still strewn with rubble. Efforts had been made to memorialize the site outside Addis Ababa with white floral wreaths in place.