US, Canada ground all 737 MAX

A US Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX8 makes a final approach for its final landing until further notice at Hobby airport, in Houston, Texas. President Donald Trump ordered all 737 MAX8s in the US to land immediately and stay on the ground. (AP photo)

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump issued an emergency order Wednesday grounding all Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft in the wake of a crash of an Ethiopian airliner that killed 157 people

It was a reversal for the US after federal aviation regulators had maintained it had no data to show the jets are unsafe, and came hours after Canada joined some 40 other countries in barring the Max 8 and 9 from its airspace.

Canada said satellite tracking data showed possible but unproved similarities between the Ethiopian Airlines crash and a previous crash of a 737 MAX 8 in Indonesia five months ago.

The US also grounded the larger version of the plane, the Max 9. That was hours after Thailand also ordered all three Max 9 aircraft flown by Thai Lion Air to be grounded.

The Federal Aviation Administration said "new information from the wreckage" of the Ethiopia crash, along with satellite-based tracking of the flight path, indicated some similarities with a Lion Air crash in the Java Sea that killed 187 people in October.

The information "warrants further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents that needs to be better understood and addressed," the FAA said in a statement.

Trump, who had received assurances Monday from Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg that the Max aircraft was sound, said the safety of the American people is of "paramount concern."

Trump said any plane currently in the air will go to its destination and then be grounded, adding that pilots and airlines have been notified.

Boeing issued a statement saying it supported the FAA's decision even though it "continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX." The company also said it had itself recommended the suspension of the Max fleet after consultations with the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.

"We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution," Boeing said.

Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said a comparison of vertical fluctuations found a "similar profile" between the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the Lion Air crash. Garneau, a former astronaut who flew in the space shuttle, emphasised that the data is not conclusive but crossed a threshold that prompted Canada to bar the Max 8.

He said the new information indicated that the Ethiopian Airline jet's automatic system kicked in to force the nose of the aircraft down after computer software determined it was too high. He said that in the case of the Lion Air crash off Indonesia, the pilot fought against computer software that wanted to drop the nose of the plane.

"So, if we look at the profile, there are vertical fluctuations, in the vertical profile of the aircraft and there were similarities in what we saw," Garneau said. "But I would repeat once again. This is not the proof that is the same root problem. It could be something else."

Canada lost 18 of its citizens in Sunday's crash, the second highest number after Kenya. A Canadian family of six were among the dead.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian Airlines said Wednesday that flight recorders from the jet that crashed will be sent to Europe for analysis, but it was unclear where. Some aviation experts have warned that finding answers in the crash could take months.

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