Trump worried grounding Boeing 737 MAX planes ‘would hurt stock market’

Tom Embury-Dennis

Before Donald Trump decided to ground all Boeing 737 MAX planes, the president reportedly fretted over the damage it could do to the US stock market.

America lagged behind almost every other major country in deciding to suspend the 737 MAX after a crash involving the jetliner killed more than 150 passengers in Ethiopia over the weekend.

But on Wednesday, Mr Trump finally announced the move, saying he did not want to take any chances on a plane he privately told aides “sucked”, The Washington Post reported.

He said the jetliner paled in comparison to Trump Force One, his private Boeing 757 jet, according to administration officials who spoke to the newspaper.

Mr Trump was reportedly inclined to announce a suspension on Tuesday, but received pushback from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) amid his own doubts over the impact on the stock market and the prospect of triggering panic.

After agreeing with aides it should be left to the FAA to announce the decision to ground the planes, industry officials were caught by surprise when the president scrapped the plan and told reporters at the White House he was issuing an emergency order to ground all flights of the 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9.

“We didn’t have to make this decision today. We could have delayed it,” Mr Trump said. “We maybe didn’t have to make it at all. But I felt it was important both psychologically and in a lot of other ways.”

But the FAA said the order was the result of “new evidence collected at the site and analysed today” and “newly refined satellite data” that Canada had cited earlier in its decision to halt flights.

The FAA did not disclose the new evidence at the scene but said it was “the missing pieces” that aligned the track of the two fatal Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes since October.

While Mr Trump announced the ban on television, acting FAA administrator Dan Elwell said he made the decision with the support of transportation secretary Elaine Chao.

“We were resolute in our position that we would not take action until we had data to support taking action,” Mr Elwell told reporters. “That data coalesced today and we made the call.”

For decades, the US has led the world in aviation safety, often setting standards that were later adopted by other countries. So the agency came under heavy criticism from US lawmakers and others who questioned why the FAA waited so long to ground the Boeing 737 MAX.

Canada grounded the planes earlier on Wednesday while the European Union acted on Tuesday. China and some airlines ordered the planes not to fly within hours of the crash on Sunday.

The grounding was an abrupt reversal as the US had repeatedly insisted the plane was safe to fly even as regulators and airlines around the world grounded the plane.

Mr Trump spoke to Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg on Wednesday before the announcement.

Additional reporting by agencies