Inquiry taking look at new Boeing plane
Investigators at a lab in France and a field in Ethiopia are looking for clues into the second deadly accident involving Boeing’s newest jetliner, while DNA testing has started to identify the remains of victims.
As the investigation proceeds, more details have emerged suggesting similarities between last Sunday’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 jet and another deadly Max 8 accident in October.
Some of the issues:
The investigation: Experts on Friday in France began analyzing the socalled black boxes from Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which plummeted to the ground shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa.
Preliminary satellite data suggests that the jet’s flight path was similar to that of a Lion Air Max 8 that crashed Oct. 29 in Indonesia.
The Indonesian investigation focuses on whether flight-control software embedded in the plane automatically pushed the nose down repeatedly, and whether the pilots knew how to fix the problem.
Last week, investigators searching the wreckage in Ethiopia found a part that controls tail surfaces used to make the plane rise or descend. The surfaces, called horizontal stabilizers, were tilting up, which would have caused the plane’s nose to drop, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. The person was not permitted to disclose details of the investigation that have not been made public.
The 737 Max has flight-control software that can automatically tilt the stabilizers if sensors detect that the plane is in danger of losing aerodynamic lift from the wings, which is necessary to stay aloft. That is suspected in the Lion Air accident. It is too early to know whether the software or something else tilted the stabilizers up on the doomed Ethiopian plane.
The fix: Boeing shares were hammered all week but got a small bump Friday after a report by the Agence France-Presse news agency that the company will produce an upgrade to the Max’s flight-control software in 10 days.
That would be quicker than expected. An airline industry official told The Associated Press that Boeing has indicated it is more likely to be two to four weeks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Boeing’s conversations with airline officials were not intended to be made public.
Boeing declined to comment and Charles Bickers, an airline spokesman, referred the AP to the company’s previous statement, which said only that the upgrade would be completed “in the coming weeks.” Why is it taking so long?: Boeing executives and technical experts briefed pilots at U.S. airlines that fly the Max in November about the plane, less than a month after the Lion Air crash. They mentioned changes in the flight-control software, indicating that Boeing was already at work on a solution.
Boeing aimed to finish the work in April. Boeing has declined to say whether the Ethiopian Airlines crash gave new urgency to finish the work, but experts have said that is a safe bet.
“They were working toward a solution. They didn’t expect the Ethiopians to lose their jet while all this was going on,” said Alan Diehl, a former investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.