President Donald Trump said Thursday that Boeing was under great pressure to “figure it out fast,” after the aerospace giant temporarily grounded its entire global fleet of 737 Max aircraft.
The U.S. company has been under intense pressure to quash fears about the safety of the plane after regulators from the U.K. to Australia grounded the Max, citing similarities between Sunday’s fatal crash in Ethiopia and last year’s Lion Air crash in Indonesia.
The U.S. was one of the last countries to ban the best-selling jetliner, with Trump announcing an emergency order from the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday, citing “new information and physical evidence” that could connect the two disasters.
Daniel Elwell, acting head of the FAA, told the TODAY show on Thursday that, based on newly obtained evidence, the agency is close to establishing that the two Max 8 jets involved in the deadly crashes were brought down by the same cause.
“We are much closer to that possibility, and that’s why we grounded the airplanes," Elwell said. "We got new information yesterday, and we acted on it. It is in our minds now a link that is close enough to ground the airplanes."
In the case of the Indonesia crash, which killed all 189 people on board, Lion Air said faulty sensors had triggered an automatic nose-down command that the pilots could not override.
The FAA said new data "indicates some similarities" that "warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause that needs to be better understood and addressed."
To that end, the National Transportation Safety Board is sending three investigators to France to help analyze the flight recorders from the Ethiopian Airlines crash, the agency announced on Thursday. The black boxes were sent to the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses just outside Paris, after Ethiopia said it did not have the capacity for such a complex analysis.
The BEA has worked on several high-profile investigations, including Germanwings Flight 925 in 2015, when a co-pilot was found to have deliberately crashed the plane into the French Alps.
A spokesman for the BEA warned that it could take several days to even download the information from the black boxes. “First we will try to read the data,” he told Reuters on Thursday.
Well before the accident in Ethiopia on Sunday, at least five complaints about the Max 8 were made, and most mentioned issues with the aircraft's autopilot and the plane going nose down shortly after takeoff. One pilot wrote that the Max 8's aircraft manual was "criminally insufficient."
Investors have punished Boeing since the crash, wiping almost $30 billion off the company's market valuation and marking the company's worst week since the events of 9/11.
The Max 8 is Boeing's "cash cow," airline industry consultant Robert W. Mann told NBC News. “There are thousands on order, hundreds in service. It’s a big deal financially. It’s also a big deal reputationally.”