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OPINION: Forget the FAA, the Regulator in Chief has spoken

In an unprecedented move today, President Trump not the Federal Aviation Administration – announced that the USA would ground the Boeing Max fleet.

Many wondered when the USA would ground its fleet of Max jets after most other countries or airlines operating the aircraft had decided to stop operating their equipment.

The answer came this afternoon. Following Canada's grounding earlier today, Trump told reporters at a televised press conference at the White House that he "didn't want to take any chances".

"I felt it was important both psychologically and a lot of other ways," he added, noting that the US carriers – including American Airlines, which operates a total of 24 737 Max 8s and Boeing, which manufactures the aircraft – were on board with the decision.

It is not clear if it was the FAA or Trump who initiated the action to ground the US 737 Max jet fleet.

The president's live comments today were followed by statements from the FAA and Boeing – the aircraft's manufacturer.

Tweeting from his personal account the prior day on March 12, Trump wrote: "Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT. I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better."

The same day, a statement from the FAA reiterated that it had seen "no basis" to order a grounding of the Boeing 737 Max.

Moreover, Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg is reported to have spoken with the president yesterday by telephone to assure the commander in chief that the aircraft was airworthy.

Less than 24 hours later, however, after most operators had grounded their equipment, the USA followed others' lead.

In most cases, either the regulator or the airline have announced that the aircraft would stop flights until Boeing had an explanation for what happened to Ethiopian flight ET302.

Unusually, however, in the USA it was President Trump who announced the move to ground the fleet this afternoon, only followed by an FAA statement confirming that all flights of the type would stop.

"The FAA is ordering the temporary grounding of Boeing 737 Max aircraft operated by US airlines or in US territory," the regulatory body wrote in the statement. "The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today."

While similarities seem apparent, no hard evidence has been shared with the public confirming that Sunday's Ethiopian crash is connected to Lion Air's fatal accident of the same aircraft type on 28 October. And Boeing has assured the public of its safety.

In fact, Boeing says it "continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max" in a statement issued following the groundings.

Rather, it was "out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety" that Boeing decided to suspend operations of its 371 737 Max jets in operation around the world.

When it comes to operating aircraft, however, safety is paramount. And, today, the FAA followed the lead of the world with that messaging by grounding the fleet.

Many industry participants attending an aircraft finance conference in Orlando earlier this week questioned the groundings of the Boeing aircraft. Several suggested these decisions had been made hastily and in the absence of evidence that there is a connection between what caused both accidents.

As the regulator mentioned in its statement, it was only today that the FAA said it gained access to evidence at the site today that caused it to respond the way it did.

"The moment the first person grounded the first plane, this went from a problem to DEFCON 5," one aircraft leasing executive told FlightGlobal in Orlando this week, referring to the scale the USA uses to measure its preparedness for war.

It is much easier for regulators to ground aircraft than for Boeing to make the case to "un-ground" it.

That said, safety should always be paramount, and today the USA fell in line with the rest of the world on the subject.

Ultimately, however, this is a decision that should have been made by the FAA – trained safety officials hired to make these decisions – not by a president.

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