Calls from Congress to ban Boeing 737 Max from U.S. airspace begin to grow

Calls from members of Congress to ban the Boeing 737 Max from U.S. airspace increased Tuesday, with Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) joining several Democratic lawmakers in advocating for restrictions similar to those imposed by a growing list of nations.

In a tweet, Romney said the Federal Aviation Administration should ground the planes “out of an abundance of caution for the flying public” following Sunday’s Ethio­pian Airlines crash, which killed all 157 people onboard.

Cruz, the chairman of a Senate subcommittee on aviation and space, said he plans to hold a hearing to investigate the crashes. He also called for the planes to be temporarily grounded “until the FAA confirms the safety of these aircraft and their passengers.”

“Further investigation may reveal that mechanical issues were not the cause, but until that time, our first priority must be the safety of the flying public,” he said in a statement. 

As of late Tuesday afternoon, at least three other senators — Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), all Democrats — had called on the FAA to follow the lead of authorities in Britain, Germany, China and other nations.

Warren, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, also called on Congress to hold hearings and noted that the Boeing 737 Max “is a major driver of Boeing profits.”

“In the coming weeks and months, Congress should hold hearings on whether an Administration that famously refused to stand up to Saudi Arabia to protect Boeing arms sales has once again put lives at risk for the same reason,” Warren said. “But that is a question to be answered another day. Today, immediately, the FAA needs to get these planes out of the sky.”

Warren was referencing the administration’s response to the death of journalist and Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in October inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. In the aftermath of his death, Trump said the United States should factor in planned arms sales to Saudi Arabia in crafting the U.S. response to the episode. Boeing is a major U.S. defense contractor.

Trump has also boosted Boeing in other ways. During his recent trip to Hanoi, he posed for a photo with the company’s chief executive to celebrate a new purchase order from a Vietnamese airline that included 100 of Boeing’s 737 Max jets.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) said Tuesday that he was “very concerned” by the FAA’s decision not to ground the 737 Max and said he would be discussing the decision with the FAA administrator later in the afternoon.

“We’ve seen very respected and conservative countries . . . bring all the planes down,” he said, referring to the British and European Union civil aviation authorities. “Obviously, other agencies have a very high level of concern.”

DeFazio said he wanted to know more about the FAA’s decision not to require pilot retraining on the new Boeing model and suggested that the FAA could be conflicted between its role in regulating U.S. aviation and its role in promoting the industry.

During a television appearance Tuesday afternoon, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said it was “very early in the process” of reviewing what led to the crash.

“We have to review and see what actually took place,” she said on Fox News. “This is going to be a process, and we’re going to be in constant contact through the Department of the Transportation, the FAA, and make a determination at the appropriate time.”

In a letter to the FAA on Monday, Feinstein also cited the crash of a Boeing 737 Max into the sea off Indonesia in October.

“The two accidents killed all people onboard, resulting in a combined loss of 346 lives, including eight U.S. citizens,” she said. “This has raised legitimate questions about whether an unknown problem exists, which must be discovered and remedied as soon as possible.”

In tweets Monday, Blumenthal also referenced the earlier crash as he called for the planes to be grounded in the United States.

“Memo to FAA: Grounding all Boeing Max 8’s during fact-finding is your job,” he wrote. “It’s mandatory safety & common sense. Failing to protect fliers will create a crisis of confidence.”

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