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Excessive-Stakes Boeing Inquiry Hinges on Ethiopia Black Box Data

Black box data was downloaded in France but only Ethiopian experts leading the probe have heard the dialogue between Getachew,, and Mohammed

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FILE - Men unload a case containing the black boxes from the crashed Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 outside the headquarters of France's BEA air accident investigation agency in Le Bourget, north of Paris, France, March 14, 2019. VOA

The investigation into the final minutes of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 turned on Tuesday to the secrets in the cockpit voice recorder as Boeing and a shaken global aviation industry hung on the outcome.

The voices of Captain Yared Getachew and First Officer Ahmednur Mohammed could reveal what led to the March 10 crash of the Boeing 737 MAX that has worrying parallels with another disaster involving the same model off Indonesia in October.

The twin disasters killed 346 people.

Black box data was downloaded in France but only Ethiopian experts leading the probe have heard the dialogue between Getachew, 29, and Mohammed, 25. The data was back in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, sources familiar with the probe told Reuters.

Experts believe a new automated system in Boeing’s flagship MAX fleet — intended to stop stalling by dipping the nose — may have played a role in both crashes, with pilots unable to override it as their jets plunged downwards.

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Clothing and personal effects from passengers are seen near the wreckage at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, March 11, 2019. VOA

Both came down just minutes after take-off after erratic flight patterns and loss of control reported by the pilots.

However, every accident is a unique chain of human and technical factors, experts say.

The prestige of Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa’s most successful companies, and Boeing, the world’s biggest planemaker and a massive U.S. exporter, is at stake.

Awkward questions for industry

Lawmakers and safety experts are questioning how thoroughly regulators vetted the MAX model and how well pilots were trained on new features. For now, regulators have grounded the existing fleet of more than 300 MAX aircraft and deliveries of nearly

5,000 more — worth well over $500 billion — are on hold.

Pressure on the Chicago-headquartered company has grown with news that federal prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Transportation are scrutinizing how carefully the MAX model was developed, two people briefed on the matter said.

The U.S. Justice Department was looking at the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of Boeing, one of the people said. And a federal grand jury last week issued at least one subpoena to an entity involved in the plane’s development. The rest of the world is watching anxiously.

The European Union’s aviation agency EASA promised its own deep look at Boeing’s software updates and failure modes.

“We will not allow the aircraft to fly if we have not found acceptable answers to all our questions,” its executive director Patrick Ky told an EU parliament committee hearing.

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A worker walks past an engine on a Boeing 737 MAX 8 airplane being built for American Airlines at Boeing Co.’s Renton assembly plant, March 13, 2019, in Renton, Wash. VOA

“Whatever the FAA does. OK? This is a personal guarantee that I make in front of you.”

Canada said it would independently certify the MAX in future, rather than accepting FAA validation, and would also send a team to help U.S. authorities evaluate proposed design changes.

In the hope of getting its MAX line back into the air soon, Boeing said it will roll out a software update and revise pilot training. In the case of the Lion Air crash in Indonesia, it has raised questions about whether crew used the correct procedures.

The MAX, which offers cost savings of about 15 percent on fuel, was developed for service from 2017 after the successful launch by its main rival of the Airbus A320neo.

Argus Research cut Boeing stock to “hold” from “buy”, giving the planemaker at least its fourth downgrade since the crash, Refinitiv data showed. Its shares, however, were enjoying a rare respite on Tuesday, up 1.6 pct to $378 and cutting losses since the crash to under 11 pct.

Global ramifications 

In the hot seat over its certification of the MAX without demanding additional training and its closeness to Boeing, the FAA has said it is “absolutely” confident in its vetting.

The crisis has put pressure on airline companies.

Norwegian Airlines has already said it will seek compensation after grounding its MAX aircraft.

Various firms are reconsidering Boeing orders, and some are revising financial forecasts given they now cannot count on maintenance and fuel savings factored in from the MAX.

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FILE – Officials inspect an engine recovered from the crashed Lion Air jet in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 4, 2018. The brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after takeoff from Jakarta early on Oct. 29, killing all passengers on board. VOA

Illustrating the hoops airlines were jumping through, Air Canada said it intends to keep its MAX aircraft grounded until at least July 1, would accelerate intake of recently acquired Airbus A321 planes, and had hired other carriers to provide extra capacity meantime.

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Beyond the corporate ramifications, anguished relatives are still waiting to find out what happened.

Many have visited the crash site in a charred field to seek some closure, but there is anger at the slow pace of information and all they have been given for funerals is earth.

“I’m just so terribly sad. I had to leave here without the body of my dead brother,” said Abdulmajid Shariff, a Yemeni relative who headed home disappointed on Tuesday. (VOA)

Next Story

FAA Says More than 300 Boeing 737 Jets Could Have Parts Susceptible to Premature Failure

The FAA said up to 148 leading edge slat tracks manufactured by a Boeing sub-tier supplier are affected

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FAA, Boeing 737 Jets, Premature Failure
FILE - An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane sits at a boarding gate at LaGuardia Airport, March 13, 2019, in New York. VOA

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Sunday disclosed a new problem involving Boeing Co’s grounded 737 MAX, saying that more than 300 of that troubled plane and an older model 737 may contain improperly manufactured parts and that the agency will require these parts to be quickly replaced.

The FAA said up to 148 leading edge slat tracks manufactured by a Boeing sub-tier supplier are affected and cover 179 MAX and 133 NG aircraft worldwide. Slats are movable panels that extend along the front of the wing during takeoffs and landings to provide additional lift. The tracks guide the slats and are built into the wing.

In a statement issued after the FAA announcement, Boeing said it has not been informed of any in-service issues related to this batch of slat tracks. Boeing, the world’s largest plane maker, said it has identified 20 737 MAX airplanes most likely to have the faulty parts and that airlines will check an additional 159 MAXs for these parts.

Boeing said it has identified 21 737 NGs most likely to have the suspect parts and is advising airlines to check an additional 112 NGs. The NG is the third-generation 737 that the company began building in 1997.

FAA, Boeing 737 Jets, Premature Failure
FILE – A Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft is parked at a Boeing production facility in Renton, Washington, March 11, 2019. VOA

The 737 MAX, Chicago-based Boeing’s bestselling jet, was grounded globally in March following a fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash after a similar Lion Air disaster in Indonesia in October.

The two crashes together killed 346 people.

Boeing has yet to submit a software upgrade to the FAA as it works to get approval to end the grounding of the 737 MAX.

The FAA said a complete failure of a leading edge slat track would not result in the loss of the aircraft, but a failed part could cause aircraft damage in flight.

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The FAA said it will issue an Airworthiness Directive to require Boeing’s service actions to identify and remove the parts from service, and operators will be required to perform this action within 10 days, but can continue to fly the planes during the 10-day period before the parts are removed.

Boeing said one batch of slat tracks with specific lot numbers produced by a supplier was found to have a “potential nonconformance” and said airlines “are to replace them with new ones before returning the airplane to service.”

The company said it is “now staging replacement parts at customer bases to help minimize aircraft downtime while the work is completed.” Boeing said once new parts are in hand, replacement work should take one to two days.

A separate service bulletin will go to 737 MAX operators to do inspections before the MAX fleet returns to service.

FAA, Boeing 737 Jets, Premature Failure
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Sunday disclosed a new problem involving Boeing Co’s grounded 737 MAX. Pixabay

The FAA said Boeing has identified groups of both 737 NG and 737 MAX airplane serial numbers on which these suspect parts may have been installed, including 32 NG and 33 MAX in the United States. The affected parts “may be susceptible to premature failure or cracks resulting from the improper manufacturing process,” the FAA said.

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The issue was discovered following an investigation conducted by Boeing and the FAA Certificate Management Office, the agency said. (VOA)