by Justin Sink and Julie Johnsson
Boeing Co. Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg defended the safety of his company's 737 Max to Donald Trump in a telephone call on Tuesday shortly after the president criticized modern airplanes for becoming too complicated, two people familiar with the matter said.
The conversation and Trump's comments came as controversy engulfed Boeing following the second crash in five months of a 737 Max model. The crash in Ethiopia on Sunday prompted regulators across the globe to ground the aircraft. On the call, Muilenburg assured Trump of his confidence in the safety of the plane, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a private conversation.
Airplanes "are becoming far too complex to fly," Trump said in a tweet earlier Tuesday. Broadly addressing innovation, he added that "often old and simpler is far better" and, in a subsequent tweet, that "complexity creates danger."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later elaborated on his statement, telling Fox News, "We know that a lot of people in the industry have started to voice concerns about the amount of technology, taking the power out of the hands of the pilot."
While investigators are still piecing together why an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max plunged to the ground near Addis Ababa minutes after takeoff Sunday, regulators in many countries opted for caution, even as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has said the jet model remains airworthy.
"Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft," Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell said in a statement on Tuesday evening. "Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action."
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and Indian authorities on Tuesday suspended all flights by the 737 Max. Earlier, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia closed their air space to 737 Max planes, and on Monday, China and Indonesia also halted flights.
Boeing fell 6% to $375.92 at 2:09 p.m. in New York. The company has lost about $27 billion in market value this week.
The trend toward safer flying has been building for years as U.S. regulators, the airlines and safety investigators introduced new safety technologies, better monitoring of potential hazards and improved training. The improving U.S. accident figures don't include passengers dying of medical emergencies.