Authorities in Ethiopia released a report on the March 2019 crash of a Boeing 737 MAX jet that killed 157 people on board and laid the blame squarely on the design of the plane and the MCAS software system that was also implicated in a fatal crash in Indonesia. Together the two crashes killed a total of 346 people and led to the grounding of Boeing’s then-best-selling jet, led to the ouster of Dennis Muilenburg as CEO and have cost or will cost Boeing at least US$18 billion in lost sales and compensation paid to airlines that cannot fly the MAX or have not received the MAX planes they ordered by the thousands.
The report released Monday (9 March) by the Ethiopian Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau comes almost exactly a year after Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 went down shortly after departing Addis Ababa. That crash occurred five months after a similar MAX owned by Lion Air of Indonesia crashed minutes after take-off.
Boeing said in a statement that the company continued “to extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Boeing continues to provide technical assistance in support of the investigation, at the request of and under the direction of the US National Transportation Safety Board…We look forward to reviewing the full details and formal recommendations that will be included in the final report from the Ethiopian Accident Investigation Bureau.”
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The reports released by Ethiopia and Indonesia differ somewhat. While Ethiopian investigators blamed the design of the 737 MAX, Indonesia cited a number of factors, including the plane’s design, but also cited the flight crew’s response and a lack documentation on the plane’s flight and maintenance history. Ethiopian officials said Boeing’s design of the MCAS system and its reliance on a single Angle of Attack sensor “made it vulnerable to undesired activation.”
Ethiopian Airlines, while considered one of the best airlines in Africa, has been criticised by some in the industry for its handling of the crash and its aftermath and reports have surfaced that former employees criticised the airline for putting profits and growth ahead of safety, charges that have also been levelled at Boeing.
A recent report by the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure said that production pressures and a “culture of concealment” at Boeing had contributed to both plane crashes and “jeopardised the safety of the flying public”.
Boeing, which is based in Chicago, faces a host of problems in addition to the grounding of the MAX. The US Federal Aviation Administration is considering imposing a US$20 million fine for installing unapproved equipment on the MAX and other planes, lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages filed by victims’ families and is facing a class-action lawsuit in the US filed on behalf of more than 7,000 MAX pilots who argue that the company’s practices put the lives of pilots, crew members and passengers at risk.
FAA rejects Boeing 737 MAX wiring plan
A plan by Boeing to leave in place wiring bundles in the 737 MAX won’t be approved by the FAA, according to a Reuters report from the US. Boeing had earlier told the FAA it did not believe there was a need to move or separate the wiring bundles, but US officials have said the bundles present a threat to the safety of the aircraft if they short-circuited. The FAA said earlier it “continues to engage with Boeing as the company works to address a recently discovered wiring issue with the 737 MAX. The manufacturer must demonstrate compliance with all certification standards”. Boeing said it was in ongoing discussions with the FAA over the issue. Boeing could opt to make a new proposal or move the bundles or try to convince the FAA to reconsider its position, but a US official said it was “unlikely” the FAA would reconsider, according to Reuters.