Feeling pressure to ground Boeing planes, US Transportation Secretary flies on 737 Max 8

  • Elaine Chao and her staff flew on a Southwest Airlines 737 Max 8 from Austin, Texas to Washington, D.C. hours after the Transportation Secretary was emphatic in saying her department will ground Max planes if it's determined they are not safe to fly.
  • "The department and the FAA will not hesitate to take immediate and appropriate action," Chao said, as airlines and governments around the world shutting down Boeing 737 Max airplanes.
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao
Alex Wong | Getty Images
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao

With airlines and governments around the world shutting down Boeing 737 Max airplanes after a second deadly crash of the aircraft, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is not only resisting the calls to ground the plane, she even flew one of the planes back to Washington Tuesday afternoon.

Chao and her staff flew on a Southwest Airlines 737 Max 8 from Austin, Texas to Washington, D.C. just hours after the Transportation Secretary was emphatic in saying her department will ground Max planes if it's determined they are not safe to fly.

"The department and the FAA will not hesitate to take immediate and appropriate action," Chao said.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board. It came less than five months after a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max 8 went down in Indonesia last October — none of the 157 people on board survived.

Chao's comments were echoed by acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell who issued a statement late Tuesday afternoon defending the FAA decision not to order airlines to stop flying the newest Boeing commercial airplanes.

"Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft. Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action," Elwell said in a release from the FAA.

"In the course of our urgent review of data on the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash, if any issues affecting the continued airworthiness of the aircraft are identified, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action."

While Elwell and his boss are waiting to see data to convince them the 737 Max planes should not fly, more than thirty airlines, several countries and the European Union have decided to ground the planes.

The decisions have created a perception for some that regulators in Washington, D.C. and three U.S. airlines that fly the Max are being stubborn by continuing to fly the Max. Southwest and American Airlines, who fly the 737 Max 8, and United Airlines, which flies the 737 Max 9, have all said they have no plans to take the plane out of service.

— Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines have no plans to take the Boeing Max aircraft out of service.