In the wake of two deadly crashes in the last six months, President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced the grounding of Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 airplanes.
“The safety of the American people, of all people, is our paramount concern,” Trump told reporters in the White House.
But in Atlanta — home to world’s busiest airport — the move is not expected to create widespread disruption.
Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, is among the U.S. airlines that fly the Boeing 737 Max 8, the type of airplane in an Ethiopian Airlines crash last weekend.
But the Max 8 jets number just 34 of Southwest’s fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737s. That means less than five percent of its flights are affected. Southwest makes up less than 10 percent of traffic at the Atlanta airport.
The dominant carrier in Atlanta, Delta Air Lines, has Boeing 737s in its fleet but not the newer Max version.
Overall, the Atlanta airport has close to 2,500 takeoffs and landings each day, so the impact of grounding of this particular airplane model is limited.
Still, the action by Trump is rare.
“It’s better to err on the side of safety,” said Hartsfield-Jackson general manager John Selden at an Atlanta city council finance committee meeting Wednesday after Trump announced the grounding. “Hopefully they find what it is, whether it was pilot error, material failure or some kind of design flaw.”
Selden said airlines are “well aware” of the emergency order and flight dispatchers will be prevented from dispatching 737 Max planes.
In response to Trump’s order, Dallas-based Southwest said it removed the Max 8 planes from its scheduled service and said its goal is to “operate our schedule with every available aircraft in our fleet.”
A search on live air traffic website Flightradar24.com showed data on several recent Southwest flights in Atlanta on the 737 Max 8, including flights from Hartsfield-Jackson to Houston and Denver and flights from Las Vegas, Oakland and Tampa to Atlanta.
Dallas-based Southwest said it remains confident in the Max 8, but supports the actions of the FAA. The airline said it is offering “flexible rebooking policies,” saying passengers whose Max 8 flights are canceled can rebook other flights on the same route without any additional fees or fare differences within 14 days of their original travel date.After the Ethiopian Airlines crash Sunday shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board, aviation authorities around the world grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 planes. The Ethiopian Airlines flight was bound for Nairobi, Kenya.
The Federal Aviation Administration had previously stopped short of grounding the planes, and had said its review “shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft.”
But after Trump’s announcement, the FAA issued an emergency order prohibiting the operation of the Max 8 and Max 9 planes.
The FAA said it “made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today. This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision.”
The agency said the grounding will remain in effect pending further investigation, including examination of flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders.
The Ethiopian Airlines crash is the second time in five months the Boeing 737 Max airplane has been involved in a deadly crash. Last year, a Lion Air flight crashed soon after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. All 189 passengers died.
The day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, Southwest issued a statement saying, “we have been in contact with Boeing and will continue to stay close to the investigation as it progresses. We remain confident in the safety and airworthiness of our entire fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737 aircraft, and we don’t have any changes planned to 737 MAX operation.”
But in response to Trump’s order, Southwest said it was immediately complying and that the action “reflects the commitment to supporting the current investigations and regulatory concerns.”
American Airlines also has the 737 Max 8 in its fleet, but said earlier this week that none of those jets in its fleet are used on its flights to or from Atlanta.
United Airlines, which makes up less than 2 percent of traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson, has 737 Max 9 planes in its fleet but said its flights through Atlanta should not be impacted.
“We will comply with the FAA’s order and will ground our 14 737 MAX aircraft,” United said in a written statement. “Since Sunday, we have been working diligently on contingency plans to prepare our fleet to minimize the impact to customers.”
United said across its system it has operated about 40 flights a day with the Max planes, and by using spare aircraft and rebooking customers, it does not anticipate a significant operational impact.
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