Black box hints at sim­i­lar cause of Boe­ing air dis­as­ters

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - NEW YORK TIMES

Black box data from a doomed Ethiopian Air­lines flight sug­gests the crash was caused by a faulty sen­sor that er­ro­neously ac­ti­vated an au­to­mated sys­tem on the Boe­ing 737 Max, a series of sim­i­lar events sus­pected in the In­done­sian dis­as­ter in­volv­ing the same jet last year.

Data from the an­gle-of-at­tack sen­sor in­cor­rectly ac­ti­vated the com­puter-con­trolled sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to three peo­ple who have been briefed on the con­tents of the black box in Ethiopia. The sys­tem, known as MCAS, is be­lieved to have pushed the nose of the plane down, lead­ing to an ir­recov­er­able nose­dive that killed all 157 peo­ple aboard.

The black box con­tains in­for­ma­tion on dozens of sys­tems aboard the plane.

The black boxes on both planes sur­vived the crashes, al­low­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors to be­gin piec­ing to­gether what caused the dis­as­ters.

Both in­ves­ti­ga­tions are con­tin­u­ing, and no fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tions have been made.

The new con­nec­tions be­tween the two crashes adds to the pres­sure on Boe­ing, which faces scru­tiny over the de­sign and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of the plane. Boe­ing played a ma­jor role in ap­prov­ing the 737 Max, as reg­u­la­tors del­e­gated sig­nif­i­cant re­spon­si­bil­ity and over­sight to the man­u­fac­turer.

The de­sign and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of the plane is the sub­ject of mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ment in­quiries. The Jus­tice De­part­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the plane’s de­vel­op­ment, while the Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral is look­ing into the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process. The in­spec­tor gen­eral has is­sued a sub­poena to at least one for­mer Boe­ing en­gi­neer for doc­u­ments re­lated to the 737 Max, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

MCAS was orig­i­nally de­signed to ac­ti­vate based on data from a sin­gle an­gle-of-at­tack sen­sor, which mea­sures the level of the jet’s nose rel­a­tive to on­com­ing air. Air-safety ex­perts, as well as for­mer em­ploy­ees at Boe­ing and the sup­plier that made the sen­sor, have ex­pressed con­cern that sys­tem had this sin­gle point of fail­ure, a rar­ity in avi­a­tion.

In a tacit ac­knowl­edg­ment that the ini­tial de­sign was flawed, Boe­ing un­veiled a soft­ware up­date this week that would make the sys­tem rely on both sen­sors, in­stead of just one. If the two sen­sors dis­agree by a cer­tain amount, MCAS will not en­gage.

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