Boeing urges U.S. regulators to ground global fleet of 737 Max jets

ERIC ATKINSTRANSPORTATION REPORTERADRIAN MORROWU.S. CORRESPONDENT

Boeing Co. has recommended U.S. aviation regulators ground the global fleet of the U.S. aircraft maker’s 737 Max passenger jets, after two deadly crashes in five months.

Boeing made the announcement on the same day Canada and the United States grounded Boeing’s 737 Max passenger jet, becoming the last major countries to do so.

“We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution,” said Dennis Muilenburg, chief executive officer of Boeing. “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.”

Marc Garneau, Transport Minister, said he made the move after seeing satellite tracking data on the final moments of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 that crashed shortly after takeoff on Sunday, killing 157 people, including 18 Canadians.

The safety notice bars the flight of the 737 Max 8 and 9 models “into, out of, or across Canada,” Mr. Garneau said at a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday afternoon that he has spoken with government and Boeing officials about the decision to issue and emergency order to ground the U.S.-made planes. “They are all in agreement with the action,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “Planes that are in the air … will be grounded upon landing at the destination.”

Mr. Trump said the U.S. government had received “new information and physical evidence” both from the crash site and other places, as well as “a couple of other complaints,” which led to the decision.

He said he had spoken with the airlines, as well as the CEO of Boeing and they were all in agreement with the decision.

“It’s a terrible, terrible thing. Boeing is an incredible company. 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,” he said. “The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern.”

Mr. Trump said the American and Canadian groundings were coordinated. “What we’re doing, it almost has a simultaneous – we were coordinating with Canada,” he said. “We were giving them information, they were giving us information. We very much worked in conjunction with Canada.”

The Canadian decision to restrict the narrow-body aircraft is expected to bring headaches for Canada’s major airlines and their passengers.

Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd. said in statements on Wednesday they will comply with the minister’s notice, but warned customers should expect delays rebooking on other planes.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, which has 32 member countries, China, the U.K., and India grounded the plane earlier this week and, in most cases, barred it from entering their airspace.

The Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed on Sunday and a Lion Air 737 Max jet that crashed in October, killing 189, both exhibited similar flight patterns before crashing, Mr. Garneau said, indicating there are possible problems with the automatic features of the planes’ controls.

Pilots of both planes had to correct their planes’ trajectories repeatedly after the automatic control systems aimed the nose downward.

“My experts have looked at this and compared it to the [flight path of] Lion Air in October and there are similarities that exceed a certain threshold in our minds with respect to the possible cause of what happened in Ethiopia,” Mr. Garneau said, adding the information is not conclusive and needs to be confirmed by the flight recorder data.

Both crashes are under investigation.

Mr. Garneau said deaths of Canadians, including six members of a family from Brampton, Ont., made the tragedy a personal one for many people. “It has something that has viscerally caught the attention of Canadians,” he said.

Number of Boeing 737 MAX 8s delivered, by country or region

Numbers from Boeing as of Feb., 2019

= Planes grounded*

Sunwing: 4

Air Canada:

24

U.S.: 111

China: 78

Canada: 40

WestJet: 12

Indonesia: 15

Britain: 14

UAE: 14

Ireland: 13

Norway: 18

Singapore: 12

Turkey: 12

India: 7

Brazil: 6

Mexico: 6

Ethiopia: 5

Panama: 6

Qatar: 5

Iceland: 3

Argentina: 2

Fiji: 2

Poland: 2

South

Korea: 2

Czech

Republic: 1

Cayman

Islands: 2

South

Africa: 1

Hong

Kong: 1

Kazakhstan: 1

Mauritania: 1

Mongolia: 1

Morocco: 1

*As of March 13, 2019, 12:00 p.m. ET

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: BOEING; WIRES; CAYMAN AIRWAYS;

COMAIR; EASTAR JET; AIR CANADA

The U.S. President did not elaborate on what information the U.S. had received.

Five complaints from American pilots in a federal database, first uncovered by the Dallas Morning News on Tuesday, revealed apparent problems controlling the aircraft. Pilots complained that the Max 8’s autopilot system had unexpectedly pushed planes into a dive and failed to provide enough thrust, requiring crews to take control manually.

Air Canada said its 24 737 Max aircraft fly 9,000 to 12,000 passengers a day. WestJet flies 13 737 Max planes, and will book passengers on its 162 other aircraft.

“This decision has an impact on the travel plans of our WestJet guests and we ask for understanding as we work to rebook all guests affected as quickly as possible,” said Ed Sims, WestJet chief executive officer.

On Tuesday, Toronto-based Sunwing Airlines Inc. said it has “suspended” flights of its four Max 8 jets due to “evolving commercial reasons,” joining dozens of airlines and countries in halting the use of the new planes amid safety concerns.

The Air Canada Pilots Association said it supports the minister’s move. “Decisions such as the one taken today are difficult to make, but ultimately important to ensure continued public confidence in aviation,” the union said in a statement.

Though there is no evidence the two crashes are linked, the disasters have spooked passengers and have led to the grounding of most of Boeing’s 737 Max fleet, hammering shares in the world’s biggest plane maker.

Since the Indonesia crash, an automated anti-stall system that dips the aircraft’s nose down has been the focus of attention.

Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw told Reuters it was still unclear what happened Sunday but said the pilot had reported control issues – as opposed to external factors such as birds.