FAA insists it decided to ground Boeing 737 MAX jets before Trump's surprise announcement

Trump announces grounding of 737 MAX jets
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

After President Trump announced the immediate grounding of all Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 jets Wednesday afternoon, following the lead of every major nation and airline outside the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration quickly took responsibility for the decision. The FAA said newly discovered similarities between Sunday's crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 and a Lion Air MAX 8 crash five months ago raised "the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents that needs to be better understood and addressed."

Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell said U.S. regulators received "refined satellite data" Wednesday morning showing that "the track of the Ethiopian Airlines flight was very close — and behaved very similarly — to the Lion Air flight." Unspecified "evidence we found on the ground made it even more likely that the flight path was very close to Lion Air's," Elwell added. A senior administration official told Politico the new data arrived at 10:30 a.m., and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao called Trump with the decision at 1:30 p.m. after a meeting with FAA officials.

"It wasn't immediately clear what the FAA knew Wednesday afternoon that it couldn't have known earlier in the day, when Canada barred the 737 MAX from its airspace — also citing newly available data about the flights," Politico notes, "or on Tuesday, when the EU and other U.S. allies made the same call." And Trump was unusually involved in the decision, speaking with Boeing's CEO on Tuesday, touting Boeing as a "great, great company" when announcing the grounding of its jets, and appearing to catch at least Southwest Airlines — the largest U.S. user of 737 MAX jets — by surprise with his announcement.

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Typically, Politico says, the FAA would announce the decision, not the president, and "countries would follow the lead of the agency that had certified the aircraft in question. In this case, that would be the FAA, which has historically been seen as the gold standard among aviation safety regulators."

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