'Clear Similarities' between Boeing and Lion Air Crashes
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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Aviation officials appear to be closing in on the precise cause of the crash of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 10. All 157 persons on board were killed.
French aviation investigators examining the black boxes from the Ethiopian Airlines wreckage say there were “clear similarities” between the crash and that of a Lion Air 737 Max 8 jet in Indonesian waters last October, the Associated Press reported.
“The French civil aviation investigation bureau BEA said Monday that black box data from the Ethiopian Airlines flight showed the links with the Lion Air crash and will be used for further study,” AP said.
Many nations promptly ordered the grounding of 737 MAX aircraft. On Wednesday, March 13, President Trump ordered the grounding of all 737 MAX 8 aircraft owned by the three largest U.S. carriers: American, Delta and United airlines.
French, US Officials Suspect Automated Flight Control Software May Explain Both Air Crashes
Authorities in France and in the United States now suspect that software in the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight control system may be to blame for both crashes. MCAS was designed to act in the background without pilot input, Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates explained.
“The automatic flight control was needed because the MAX’s much larger engines had to be placed farther forward on the wing, changing the airframe’s aerodynamic lift.
“Designed to activate automatically only in the extreme flight situation of a high-speed stall, this extra kick downward of the nose would make the plane feel the same to a pilot as the older-model 737s,” Gates said.
The U.S. Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General is looking into the FAA’s approval of the Boeing 737 MAX, a U.S. official told AP.
FAA Managers Pushed Agency Safety Engineers to Let Boeing Make Safety Assessments
The Seattle Times on Monday reported that in 2015, Boeing “hustled” to catch up to its main aircraft manufacturer competitor, the European consortium Airbus.
According to the Times, “Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) managers pushed the agency’s safety engineers to delegate safety assessments to Boeing itself, and to speedily approve the resulting analysis.”
However, Boeing’s safety analysis of MCAS found “several crucial flaws.” Among the findings were the following:
- The analysis understated the power of the new flight control system, which was designed to swivel the horizontal tail to push the nose of the plane down to avert a stall. When the planes later entered service, MCAS was capable of moving the tail more than four times farther than was stated in the initial safety analysis document.
- The analysis failed to account for how the system could reset itself each time a pilot responded, thereby missing the potential impact of the system repeatedly pushing the airplane’s nose downward.
- The analysis assessed a failure of the system as one level below “catastrophic.” But even that “hazardous” danger level should have precluded activation of the system based on input from a single sensor — and yet that’s how it was designed.
FAA and Boeing Delayed Responses to Press Inquiries
The Times said it informed Boeing and the FAA of the specifics of its story “and were asked for responses 11 days ago,” before the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8.
Late Friday, the FAA replied by insisting that it followed its standard certification process on the MAX. A spokesman said the agency had a busy week and was “unable to delve into any detailed inquiries,” the Times reported.
Boeing responded on Saturday, March 16, with a statement that “the FAA considered the final configuration and operating parameters of MCAS during MAX certification, and concluded that it met all certification and regulatory requirements.”