Southwest Airlines, the major air carrier for Sacramento International Airport, announced Wednesday it has grounded 34 jets, following President Donald Trump’s order that the United States halt the use of Boeing’s 737 Max 8 aircraft and reversing an earlier decision by U.S. regulators.
American Airlines, the other local carrier that uses the jet announced, it too was grounding the craft. It flies 24 of the Max 8s nationally.
The newly designed Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft have been involved in two major crashes in the last five months, sending alarm bells through the aviation industry internationally. On Sunday, an Ethiopian Airlines Max crashed, killing 157 people. In October, a Lion Air flight of the same aircraft crashed, killing 189.
Both instances occurred just after takeoff. Some pilots have reported problems with the jets’ software on take-off in other instances.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
The crashes prompted numerous airlines and countries to announce this week they were grounding the gets pending investigation into the cause.
The Federal Aviation Administration initially said it did not believe there was any reason to ground the Max 8s. But on Wednesday, President Donald Trump said the FAA was reversing course, saying “the safety of the American people, of all people, is our paramount concern.”
Trump’s order also extended to another variant of the plane known as the Max 9.
Southwest Airlines, which operates more than half of flights in and out of Sacramento, has 34 of the Max 8 jets in its 750-craft fleet.
“Southwest Airlines is immediately complying with today’s FAA requirement for all U.S. airlines to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8,” the airline said in a statement on its website Wednesday afternoon. “We have removed our 34 Max 8 aircraft from scheduled service. “
The airline officials say it remains “confident in the Max 8 after completing more than 88,000 flight hours accrued over 41,000 flights.”
The grounding could affect some flights out of Sacramento, based on a Bee review of upcoming flights.
Southwest has not released details on how it plans to back fill for the Max, but the company said they will use “every available aircraft in our fleet to meet our customers’ expectations during the busy spring travel season.”
The airline said customers on canceled Max 8 flights can rebook on other flights without additional fees or fare differences within two weeks of their planned date of travel.
The airline has published a travel advisory on its website at Southwest.com.
“The Southwest Team is working diligently to minimize disruptions to our customers’ travel plans,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest’s chief executive.
Problems with the new jets could have longer term ramifications for Southwest and Boeing. In a federal filing last month, Southwest reported it plans to dramatically increase the number of Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in its fleet over the next few years as part of a fleet modernization initiative, saying the planes are fuel-efficient. The filing indicates the airline plans to add 219 of the craft between now and 2025, with options to purchase 115 more.
American Airlines issued a statement Wednesday saying: “Our team will work with all customers impacted by these flight cancellations in order to rebook them to their final destination. Affected customers may rebook themselves on aa.com by retrieving their reservation or using our mobile app. If a flight is canceled, customers may request a full refund by visiting our website. Customers who booked through a travel agent are requested to contact their agency directly.”
The FAA issued a statement Wednesday saying the decision to temporarily ground the jets was based on new data from the Ethiopian crash site. “The grounding will remain in effect pending further investigation, including examination of information from the aircraft’s flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders. An FAA team is in Ethiopia assisting the NTSB as parties to the investigation of the Flight 302 accident. The agency will continue to investigate.”