Ethiopia sends Boeing black boxes abroad, as it lacks forensic expertise

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Updated: March 13, 2019 7:51 PM

Two-thirds of the 737 MAX aircraft have been grounded globally, and Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told the BBC the world's biggest planemaker should ground all such craft until their safety is established.

The investigation may focus on an automated anti-stall system that dips the nose down. (Reuters)

Ethiopian Airlines said on Wednesday it would send the black boxes from its crashed Boeing 737 MAX abroad for expert analysis, and a Norwegian airline sought compensation after it grounded its models in the wake of the disaster.

Two-thirds of the 737 MAX aircraft have been grounded globally, and Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told the BBC the world’s biggest planemaker should ground all such craft until their safety is established.

Sunday’s still unexplained crash of the passenger jet, just after take-off from Addis Ababa en route to Nairobi, killed 157 people and followed another disaster involving a 737 MAX in Indonesia five months ago that killed 189 people.
The investigation may focus on an automated anti-stall system that dips the nose down.

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The twin crashes have spooked the airline industry and heaped pressure on Boeing, whose shares have plunged.
Multiple nations, including the European Union, have suspended the 737 MAX, leading to the grounding of about two-thirds of the 371 jets of that make in operation around the world, according to Reuters calculations. Boeing has nearly 5,000 more on order.

However, with no evidence of links between the Ethiopia and Indonesia crashes, the United States has bucked the backlash and allowed 737 MAX planes to continue operating. Even as many passengers sought reassurances they would not be flying on a 737 MAX, the world’s biggest planemaker said it retains “full confidence” in the model.
Boeing shares fell 6.1 percent on Tuesday, bringing losses to 11.15 percent since the crash, the steepest two-day loss for the stock since July 2009. The drop has lopped $26.65 billion off Boeing’s market value.

Adding to the pressure, Norwegian Air said it would seek recompense for lost revenue and extra costs after grounding its 737 MAX aircraft. “We expect Boeing to take this bill,” it said. Industry sources said more claims may come.


In Ethiopia, which lacks forensic expertise, Ethiopian Airlines said the black box voice and data recorders recovered on Monday would be sent overseas for analysis. That could be in Europe, the state company’s CEO told CNN. Britain’s air accident investigation branch said that so far it had not been approached to handle the black boxes.
U.S. officials said the black box devices suffered damage but should yield some initial results within 24 hours of data being downloaded.

More than a dozen relatives of those who perished in the crash, mainly Kenyans who have flown in, went to pay respects at the rural crash site where Flight ET 302 came down in a fireball. Workers set up tents decorated with white roses.

However, given problems of identification of charred remains, it will take days to start returning them to families, probably weeks for some which will require dental or DNA testing. The victims came from more than 30 nations, and included nearly two dozen U.N. staff.


Resisting pressure, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) acting administrator Dan Elwel said its review had shown “no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft”. U.S. President Donald Trump spoke to Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg and got safety assurances.

The three U.S. airlines using the 737 MAX – Southwest Airlines Co, American Airlines Group Inc and United Airlines – stood by the aircraft, although many potential passengers took to social media to express concerns, asking if they could change flights or cancel. However, Egypt, Thailand, Lebanon and Uzbekistan on Wednesday joined the long list of nations suspending the model.

Of the top 10 countries by air passenger travel, all but the United States and Japan have halted flights of the 737 MAX. The EU, China, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, India and others have temporarily suspended the plane. The new variant of the world’s most-sold modern passenger aircraft was viewed as the likely workhorse for global airlines for decades.

A debate over automation lies at the centre of the investigation into October’s Lion Air crash in Indonesia. A focus there is the role of a software system designed to push the plane down to prevent a stall during flight, alongside airline training and repair standards. Boeing says it plans to update the software in the coming weeks. Though there are no proven links between the two recent 737 MAX crashes, the United Arab Emirates’ aviation regulator said on Tuesday there were “marked similarities” and China’s regulator noted both occurred shortly after take-off.

In November, two incidents were reported to the NASA-run Aviation Safety Reporting Database that involved problems in controlling the 737 MAX at low altitude just after take-off with autopilot engaged, according to documents first published by the Dallas Morning News and verified by Reuters.

“We discussed the departure at length and I reviewed in my mind our automation setup and flight profile but can’t think of any reason the aircraft would pitch nose down so aggressively,” one pilot said. In another case, the pilot said: “With the concerns with the MAX 8 nose down stuff, we thought it appropriate to bring it to your attention.”

Boeing did not respond immediately to a request for comment, but it has previously said it provided appropriate information to pilots to use an existing procedure to handle the issue of erroneous data affecting the anti-stall system.

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