Boeing chief personally appealed to Trump as countries grounded jets


With more countries grounding Boeing jets and with lawmakers, aviation workers and consumers calling on the United States to do the same, the head of the aerospace giant Tuesday made a personal appeal to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Boeing’s chief executive, Dennis A. Muilenburg, called from Chicago and expressed to Trump his confidence in the safety of the 737 Max 8 jets, according to two people briefed on the conversation. Two of the planes flown by overseas carriers have crashed in recent months in similar accidents.

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Muilenburg on March 12, 2019, about the crash of a 737 MAX 8 aircraft that killed 157 people, an industry source told AFP.
U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Muilenburg on March 12, 2019, about the crash of a 737 MAX 8 aircraft that killed 157 people, an industry source told AFP.  (MANDEL NGAN / AFP/GETTY IMAGES file photo)

The brief call had been in the works since Monday, but it came shortly after Trump raised concerns that the increasing use of technology in airplanes was compromising passenger safety. “Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly,” he wrote on Twitter. “Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT.”

Soon after the conversation ended, Muilenburg received more bad news. The European Union suspended “all flight operations” of the Boeing 737 Max 8 model, a striking move by one of the industry’s important regulators. At the end of the day, the Federal Aviation Administration said that it was continuing with its review and that the planes could keep flying.

Yet the decision in Europe means roughly two-thirds of the Boeing Max 8 aircraft in the world have been pulled from use in the two days since the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight that killed 157 people. The swift actions by authorities around the world were driven in part by concerns about a connection to a similar disaster involving a Max 8 in Indonesia last October.

Boeing reiterated in a statement late Tuesday that it had “full confidence” in the 737 Max 8. It noted that the FAA had taken no action and “based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”

Two U.S. airlines fly the 737 Max 8 aircraft, and both said they planned to keep flying. Southwest Airlines has 34 of the planes, and American Airlines has 24. The airlines have said they have analyzed data from thousands of flights with the jets and found no reason to ground them.