World

737 Max stays in the air in US after Trump talks to Boeing CEO

WASHINGTON When US President Donald Trump spoke to Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg on Tuesday to get assurances about the safety of the 737 Max 8 plane that crashed in Ethiopia, he was not talking to a stranger.

Mr Muilenburg told Mr Trump in a call that the aircraft was safe and did not need to be grounded, two people briefed on the conversation said.

Later in the day, aviation officials repeated that US flights of the plane would continue.

That leaves the US as an outlier in its response to Sunday's crash of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 that killed 157 people.

The European Union's aviation safety regulator on Tuesday suspended all flights by the plane in the bloc; of the top 10 countries by air passenger travel, all but the US and Japan have halted flights.

US officials, including a bipartisan group of five senators, are asking why the Federal Aviation Administration is not doing the same.

US Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican who chairs the Senate subcommittee on aviation and space, said he intends to convene a hearing to investigate.

"He cares about business and he creates open communication lines, and we will have differences from time to time, we may not agree on every topic," Mr Muilenburg said about Mr Trump in a radio interview last month.

Ties between Boeing and the Trump administration run deep. Mr Trump has used Boeing products and sites as a backdrop for major announcements over the course of his presidency.

Mr Trump has also put pressure on US allies to buy products from Boeing, the country's second largest defence contractor, which received US$104 billion (S$141 billion) in unclassified defence contracts between 2014 and last year.

Boeing is also one of the largest US exporters to China, and Mr Muilenburg told an aviation summit in Washington that purchases of its US-made aircraft by China could be part of a sweeping trade deal currently being negotiated.

Aircraft exports have thus far been spared from retaliatory Chinese tariffs.

- REUTERS

WORLD