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Industry desperate for answers after second plane crash

March 12, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email


China has moved rapidly and grounded all Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft operating in its territory as a precaution; the ‘black box’ flight recorders have been recovered and aviation experts are trying to fathom the disastrous fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines ET 302.

Ethiopia and Indonesia (which have both suffered recent 737 MAX 8 crashes) have grounded the planes as well.

Flight ET 302 from Ethiopia to Kenya, which crashed at the weekend, was the second 737 MAX 8 in less than 19 weeks to crash mysteriously and kill everyone aboard. Modern aircraft like the 737 MAX 8 are supposed to be extremely safe.

The crash of Ethiopian Airlines ET 302 on Sunday killed all 157 people on the flight. They came from more than 30 countries. It followed the crash of Lion Air Flight 610, another 737 MAX 8, which slammed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta on 29 October 2018, killing all 189 passengers and crew.

On Sunday, Ethiopian Airlines ET 302 was airborne for just six minutes before plunging into the ground.

The 737 MAX is the fastest-selling airplane in Boeing history. It has notched up over 5000 orders from more than 100 customers worldwide.

No planes of that model are in service with Australian airlines. Virgin Australia has ordered 30 but hasn’t received any yet and Qantas hasn’t ordered any.

Similarities between the two crashes are disturbing.

The pilots were experienced in both cases, the planes were new and the airlines are respected operators. Both planes seem to have experienced fluctuations in speed and altitude before the crash.

According to Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam, the pilot of the doomed flight reported difficulties minutes into the flight and asked to turn back to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

“It’s highly suspicious,” Mary Schiavo, an aviation analyst and the former inspector general of the US Department of Transportation, told CNN.

Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam at the crash site (Photo: Ethiopian Airlines)

“Here we have a brand-new aircraft that’s gone down twice in a year. That rings alarm bells in the aviation industry because that just doesn’t happen.”

Experts, and the travel industry generally, need answers because the type of plane involved is the latest generation of Boeing’s most common narrowbody aircraft, the long-established 737, a real workhorse.

More than 350 737 MAX 8s have been delivered since the type entered service in 2017.

Aviation experts have expressed some concern over a new feature on the MAX 8 known as the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System or the “automated anti-stall system”. The system pushes the nose down if a sensor detects the nose is pointed so high the plane risks entering an aerodynamic stall.

It’s too early to tell whether there’s any direct connection between the two crashes. The two ‘black box’ flight recorders on the Ethiopian Airlines flight (cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder) have been found, which will help.

As investigations continue, China’s aviation regulator yesterday grounded the nearly 100 737 MAX 8 aircraft operated by its airlines, more than a quarter of the global fleet of the aircraft type. Boeing shares fell sharply.

“Given that two accidents both involved newly delivered Boeing 737-8 planes and happened during the takeoff phase, they have some degree of similarity,” China’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAAC) observed.

Boeing issued the following statement

Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team. A Boeing technical team will be travelling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Written by Peter Needham

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