Ethiopia’s transport minister has confirmed that there are similarities between the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash of March 10, in which 157 people died, and a Lion Air plane crash in Indonesia in October that killed 189 people, BBC reported on Sunday. Both the planes were operating Boeing 737 Max 8 jets.
“Clear similarities were noted between Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610, which would be the subject of further study during the investigation,” Dagmawit Moges told reporters. A preliminary report would be released within 30 days, she added.
On Friday, Reuters had reported that a piece of a stabiliser in the wreckage of the Ethiopian Airlines plane had the trim set in an unusual position similar to that of the Lion Air jet. The trim position of the stabiliser, which moves the aeroplane’s horizontal tail, may help investigators figure out if it was set nose down for a steep dive. According to a news report in The New York Times, the Ethiopian Airlines plane was oscillating up and down by hundreds of feet and lost contact with air controllers five minutes after taking off. It was flying to Nairobi in Kenya.
Boeing chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg said later in the day that the company was supporting the investigators, AFP reported. The aircraft company was finalising a software update and training pilots, he added.
“Boeing is finalising its development of a previously announced software update and pilot training revision that will address the MCAS flight control law’s behaviour in response to erroneous sensor inputs,” he told reporters.
The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, is an automated safety feature on the 737 Max 8 jets designed to prevent the plane from entering into a stall, or losing lift. The MCAS automated system was fitted into the Max 8 jets because its heavier, more fuel-efficient engines changed the aerodynamic qualities of the aircraft and can cause the plane’s nose to point up in certain conditions during manual flight. The angle of the plane’s attack sensors tell the MCAS to automatically point the nose of the plane down if it is in danger of going into a stall, AFP reported.
The flight data recorder on the Lion Air plane showed that pilots struggled to control the aircraft after the MCAS system repeatedly pushed the plane’s nose down after takeoff. Muilenburg said the modification in the system was being carried out “while investigators continue to work to establish definitive conclusions”.
Meanwhile, The Seattle Times on Sunday reported that the United States Federal Aviation Administration, the country’s aviation regulator, told its safety engineers in 2015 to delegate safety assessments of the 737 Max jets to Boeing itself, and to speedily approve the resulting analysis as the aircraft pushed the regulatory body to speed up the process in an effort to catch up with its competitor Airbus.
The original safety analysis that the American aircraft company delivered to the FAA for the MCAS system was flawed, the newspaper added. The FAA Federal Aviation Administration and other major global regulators, including India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, have grounded the fleet after the Ethiopia crash.