WMU College of Aviation dean weighs in on Boeing 737 Max grounding

Posted at 10:19 PM, Mar 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-13 22:27:17-04

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — President Donald Trump announced Wednesday the United States would join several other countries in grounding Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

Dave Powell, the dean of Western Michigan University's College of Aviation, spoke with FOX 17 about the decision.

Powell was the chief pilot for United Airlines before moving to West Michigan. He says he trusts the Federal Aviation Administration's opinion on the issue, but understands why Trump is erring on the side of caution.

Powell says he is following this situation closely. As the chief pilot for United Airlines for quite some time, he is familiar with the Boeing 737 Max model.

"The Max is longer, heavier, carries more passengers and they put bigger engines on it," said Powell.

On Wednesday, Trump announced all Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 airplanes would be grounded, following the footsteps of many other nations. It comes as the FAA says new information was gathered at the site of the crash Wednesday.

Up until the afternoon, administration officials had insisted the planes were safe.

"If the airlines didn’t want to take it out of service and the FAA didn’t want to take it out of service, I have to wonder what else is going on and that’s what I don’t know," said Powell. "Trying to speculate on what happened with this flight, until you get the data, nothing but speculation.”

Powell anticipates the grounding of the jets in the United States will be significant in the days or weeks that the grounding lasts, adding it’s too early to tell at this point.

"People from this point on are always going to have naysayers that say no matter what you do to this aircraft, they’re never going to be safe and so, and that’s probably an unjustified fear I would say,” said Powell.

Trump is calling the decision to ground the Max 8 and 9’s  more precautionary than mandatory, but Powell understands the reasoning for erring on the side of caution.

"If you’re going to fail-safe to one place, I’d rather fail-safe on the safe side so I don’t have an issue with them being grounded, don’t misunderstand that, but I think you’ve got some very sophisticated airlines and very sophisticated FAA that’s always evaluating this to see if they should be flying these airplanes and up until Wednesday they thought it was fine," said Powell.

There’s no word on how long this situation will last, but Powell says the priority will absolutely be fixing any problems they find so they can get these planes back in the air.

The FAA says the flight paths of the two jets in Ethiopia and Indonesia showed similar vertical fluctuations and oscillations, but it’s too early into the investigation to determine what caused this more recent crash.