Ethiopian 737 MAX Pilots Unable Control Aircraft Despite Correct Procedures

Geraldine Edwards
April 6, 2019

The Ethiopian Airlines crew commanding the Boeing 737 Max 8, which crashed last month and killed all 157 people on board, followed all recommended procedures but couldn't regain control of the doomed flight, Ethiopian investigators told reporters Thursday morning.

Ethiopian transport minister Dagmawit Moges addresses a news conference on the preliminary report to the Ethiopian Airlines ET 302 plane crash in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia April 4, 2019.

News that pilots of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max turned off a critical flight-control system suspected of playing a role in an earlier crash of the same model was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Pilots of an airliner that crashed last month in Ethiopia initially followed Boeing's emergency steps by disconnecting a system that can force the nose of the plane down, but they could not regain control. The Max has been grounded worldwide pending a software fix that Boeing is rolling out, which still needs to be approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators.

It's not yet known if the two crashes are linked, but suspicion has grown over MCAS, and sparked U.S. investigations into the certification process at Boeing.

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Importantly, Dagmawit said there were no dissenting voices among participants who worked on the preliminary report, which was sent to the 34 nations with citizens aboard the flight.

The company said the update "adds additional layers of protection and will prevent erroneous data from causing MCAS activation". An initial report into that accident also raised questions about the jet's software, as well as training and maintenance.

When they were unable to stop the plane from taking a deep nose dive, the pilots turned the motors back on, reactivating the anti-stall system. Investigators found that software on that plane took readings from the sensor and pointed the nose down.

Boeing Co, whose shares rose 2.4 percent on Thursday but were still below their level before the crash, said its software fix for its anti-stall system would give pilots the authority to always override the system if activated by faulty sensor data.

Daniel Elwell, acting head of the FAA, in testimony before a Senate committee last week, defended the agency's decision to ground the plane days after most other countries had already done so, as well as the FAA's process for reviewing changes to plane design. A final report is due within a year.

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Ethiopian authorities recommended that Boeing reviews the plane's automated anti-stall software, called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), and that aviation regulators ensure the issue is dealt with before authorizing future flights.

The preliminary report on the accident will likely be issued this week, the Ethiopian government has said.

The investigation, staffed by Ethiopian, U.S. and European safety experts, has pitted Boeing's reputation for technical quality against a successful, modern African airline that's a symbol of pride for Ethiopia.

According to Moges, 18 aviation and transport experts from the U.S., France and the European Union and others were involved in the investigation, and there was "no reservation on the report from anyone".

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