The Secret Donald Trump-Boeing Relations That Kept 737 Max 8 Flying in the U.S.
All but the United States and Japan have halted flights of the Boeing 737 Max 8 post Ethiopian Airlines crash.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Boeing South Carolina facility in US. (Image: Reuters)
When Donald Trump spoke with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg on Tuesday to get assurances about the safety of the 737 MAX plane that crashed in Ethiopia, he wasn't talking to a stranger. The U.S. president, who owned his own airline, Trump Shuttle, from 1989 to 1992, is an aviation enthusiast. Before becoming president he had his own private jet and since his inauguration, he has taken visible delight in the presidential aircraft, Air Force One.
His aviation connections have expanded during his presidency to include relationships with powerful executives in the defense industry, including Muilenburg, with whom he has talked several times. Muilenburg told Trump in Tuesday's morning 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 U.S. flights of the plane would continue. That leaves the United States as an outlier in its response to Sunday's crash of a Boeing 737 MAX 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 United States and Japan have halted flights.
The Ethiopian crash follows one of a 737 MAX five months ago in Indonesia that killed 189 people. There is no evidence yet that the two disasters are linked. Plane experts say it is too early to speculate on the cause of the crash.
Trump personally negotiated with Muilenburg to try to lower the cost of a future version of Air Force One after complaining the price tag was too high. "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,” Muilenburg said in a radio interview last month.
But while the relationship hasn't all been cozy, ties between Boeing and the Trump administration run deep. Trump has used Boeing products and sites as a backdrop for major announcements over the course of his presidency. In March 2018 he touted the impact of his tax overhaul bill as he visited a plant in St. Louis.
Before joining the Pentagon, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who is expected to be named to the post, worked for 31 years at Boeing, where he was general manager for the 787 Dreamliner passenger jet.
U.S. officials and defense industry sources said that weeks after Trump pressed the Emir of Kuwait in 2018 over a long-delayed deal for Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, Kuwait said it would proceed with the order.
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