Sen. Richard Blumenthal Calls On U.S. Airlines To Ground Boeing 737 Max 8 Jets
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Ethiopia, China, the European Union...
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
India, Indonesia, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey - these countries are among more than a dozen that have grounded Boeing 737 MAX jets following the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight Sunday.
KELLY: You will notice the U.S. is not on that list. More than 70 Boeing 737 MAX jets continue to take off and land for Southwest, American and United Airlines. The airlines tell NPR their planes are safe and their pilot training is up-to-date.
CORNISH: That doesn't sit well with a lot of people, including Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's calling on the carriers to ground these jets. When I spoke with him earlier, I asked him why not wait for the FAA to determine the exact cause of Sunday's crash?
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Right now there is more than ample reason for airline passengers to be greatly concerned - in fact, justifiably frightened - about the safety of these airplanes and the ability of pilots to handle a malfunction. And so grounding them just is a matter of public safety and common sense. The airlines have a responsibility independent of the FAA, which also should order them be grounded. And I hope the airlines will recognize that responsibility and do the right thing.
CORNISH: Now, the FAA has ordered Boeing to enhance safety-related software on all its 737 MAX 8 planes. This is by April 1. It sounds like this is not enough for you.
BLUMENTHAL: Not nearly enough for the FAA to order that safety be protected by some date in the future - it should be now. People are flying these airplanes now. Our family members are in them probably as we speak. So this responsibility, it belongs to the FAA to put safety ahead of airline profits.
CORNISH: What's your response to the idea that, you know, at the end of the day, more people are likely to die in automobile accidents rather than plane crashes? I mean, is there a danger of overreaction here, especially when we still don't know the exact cause of the crash?
BLUMENTHAL: Wherever preventable deaths happen, they are unacceptable. Just because people die of smoking or they die in car crashes in no way justifies the failure of the FAA to protect consumers and the utter lack of social responsibility if the airlines voluntarily fail to act on their own. And this kind of disregard of responsibility undermines people's trust in institutions as a whole, particularly in the federal consumer protection agencies.
CORNISH: In the end, how would safety be proven to your mind?
BLUMENTHAL: Safety is really for the experts to assess and for Boeing to prove to the airlines and the FAA. The burden of proof at this point is on Boeing. Boeing has a heavy burden of proof because of the circumstantial evidence that something is wrong here and in fact, implicitly, Boeing's acknowledgement that something has to be done to improve the control system for the aircraft and the FAA's order that it be done by April 1. We should not be waiting two more weeks. It should be done immediately, and the planes should be grounded until there is proof - as a lawyer, I would say beyond a reasonable doubt - that this airline is safe. Right now these planes are simply accidents waiting to happen.
CORNISH: So to be clear, if they announced changes today, to you, they would still need to prove that the passenger jets are safe.
BLUMENTHAL: They still have to go through the normal oversight process. So the FAA and its experts look at this equipment, the software and other aspects of the plane's control system and tell the public - we stand by the assessment that you will be safe riding these airplanes. So it's not a matter of a quick fix. It has to be thorough, objective, independent. And right now, truly, these airlines have lost the public trust. They are accidents waiting to happen. They're unsafe at any speed.
CORNISH: China was among the first to ground these planes, and many other countries followed their lead. What message does this send that our airspace regulators are increasingly alone?
BLUMENTHAL: I have raised doubts in the past about the efficacy of the FAA. I believe that it has to prove that we are not behind the rest of, in effect, the civilized world - the rest of Europe and the rest of the whole world in terms of airline safety. Safety should be first, especially when it comes to airlines for all the obvious reasons. Safety ought to be job No. 1 for the FAA. And saving face - if that's what's motivating it - is certainly an abhorrent reason for the FAA to be lagging.
CORNISH: In the meantime, will you be avoiding the U.S. air carriers that still fly this Boeing jet?
BLUMENTHAL: I will be avoiding the MAX 8 and MAX 9. And I'm going to be advising my family do so as well - and, frankly, my friends and anyone else who asks.
CORNISH: Senator Richard Blumenthal, thank you so much for speaking with us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you so much.
CORNISH: And since we spoke to Senator Blumenthal, the head of the Senate panel that oversees aviation issues, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, says he will hold hearings on the Boeing 737 MAX 8.
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