Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg Called Donald Trump to Keep the 737 Max 8 Planes Flying: Report

The head of Boeing reportedly made a personal call to President Donald Trump to vouch for the safety of the 737 Max 8 jets, two-thirds of which have been grounded globally after two fatal crashes of the aircraft in five months.

The European Union announced it was grounding the planes after the Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday that killed 157 people. The same aircraft, operated by Indonesia's Lion Air, crashed in October 2018, killing all 189 people onboard.

New Zealand, Fiji and India were among the countries that banned the planes pending further investigation, but the Federal Aviation Authority insisted there was no reason for the planes to stop flying, making the U.S. one of the few countries where the aircraft, used by American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, was still allowed to fly.

After Sunday's crash, Trump tweeted that "airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly" and that "pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT."

A Southwest Boeing 737 Max 8 enroute from Tampa prepares to land at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on March 11. Boeing's CEO called President Donald Trump to keep the planes running in the wake of a fatal crash in Ethiopia, The New York Times reported. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Times reported that Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg called Trump from Chicago on Tuesday to assure him of the aircraft's safety.

According to two people briefed on the conversation, The Times reported, Muilenburg outlined the company's position since the crash and updated Trump on the status of the 737 Max 8 models.

It is not known if the call influenced any decisions being made about the aircraft, and the White House declined to comment, The Times reported.

But the phone call came amid reports of a cozy relationship between the aviation giant and U.S. politicians and agencies.

A major military contractor, Boeing has close ties with the U.S. government and the FAA. The Center for Responsive Politics said that in 2018, the company used more than a dozen lobbying firms to advocate for its interests, spending a total of $15 million.

The company gave money to the campaign accounts of lawmakers from across the political spectrum, it reported.

Ethiopian Airlines crash
Debris of the crashed Ethiopian Airlines plane near Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 11. MICHAEL TEWELDE/AFP/Getty Images

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who has called for the FAA to ground the planes, pointed out that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was a former Boeing executive. "Boeing is one of the 800-pound gorillas around here," Blumenthal told The Times.

The paper reported that question marks had also been raised over the 2005 shift that allowed aircraft makers to have their own employees to certify planes.

This move was intended to relieve the FAA's stretched resources and to help speed up certification. But Representative Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, questioned in The Times: "How much scrutiny are they applying, and could they be influenced?"

Jim Hall, the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board said that Boeing and the government had "a very cozy relationship. The manufacturer essentially becomes both the manufacturer and the regulator, because of the lack of the ability of government to do the job."

There is growing political pressure on both sides of the aisle to ground the planes until the cause of the crash becomes known.

Senators Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren and Mitt Romney are among those who have called for the planes to be grounded.

"Serious questions have been raised about whether these planes were pressed into service without additional pilot training in order to save money," Warren said.

In a statement, Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell said the planes would remain in service in the U.S.

"Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft. Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action."