In­quiry tak­ing look at new Boe­ing plane

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Stay Connected - BY DAVID KOENIG As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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