Boeing stands by 737 Max's safety after crash report

Ethiopia says jet crashed after pilots followed planemaker's recommended procedures

WASHINGTON • Embattled US aviation giant Boeing insisted on the "fundamental safety" of its 737 Max aircraft but pledged to take all necessary steps to ensure the jet's airworthiness.

The statements on Thursday came hours after Ethiopian officials said a doomed plane had crashed last month after pilots followed the company's recommendations, leaving 157 people dead.

The preliminary findings released by the transportation authorities in Addis Ababa put the American aircraft giant under even greater pressure to restore public trust, with nearly 350 people dead in crashes involving its formerly top-selling 737 Max aircraft in less than five months amid mounting signs the company's on-board anti-stall systems were at fault.

"We remain confident in the fundamental safety of the 737 Max," chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement, adding that impending software fixes would make the aircraft "among the safest airplanes ever to fly".

Mr Muilenburg also acknowledged, however, that an "erroneous activation" of Boeing's so-called Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) had occurred. The system is designed to prevent stalls but may have forced the Ethiopian and Indonesian jets into the ground.

In an earlier statement, the head of the company's commercial aircraft division had said Boeing was ready to perform "any and all additional steps" to enhance the safety of the 737 Max.

A report by Ethiopian investigators on Thursday said the crew of the Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed on March 10, killing 157 people, repeatedly followed procedures recommended by Boeing, but were unable to regain control of the jet.

 
 
 
 

The initial probe appears to confirm concerns about MCAS, with data echoing that from the crash of the Indonesian Lion Air 737 Max 8 flight in October last year which killed 189 people.

The Ethiopian authorities' full report has not been publicly released, but according to a draft copy seen by Agence France-Presse, shortly after take-off, a sensor recording the level of the plane began transmitting faulty data, prompting the autopilot system to point the nose downwards.

"The crew performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer, but was not able to control the aircraft," said Ethiopian Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges, unveiling results of the preliminary probe into the crash.

The plane pitched down at a 40-degree angle, smashing into a field outside Addis Ababa at about 500 knots (920kmh). Both engines were buried at a depth of 10m, in a crater 28m wide and 40m long, with fragments of debris found within a radius of about 300m. Citizens from over 30 countries were on board.

"This accident was not survivable," said the report.

Shortly after the Lion Air crash last year, Boeing issued a bulletin reminding operators of emergency guidelines to override the anti-stall system, amid indications it had received erroneous information from angle-of-attack sensors during that disaster.

Meanwhile on Thursday, a negligence suit was filed against Boeing, Ethiopian Airlines and aircraft-sensor maker Rosemount Aerospace in Chicago's federal court on behalf of an American citizen who was on the doomed March 10 flight.

The parents of Ms Samya Stumo, 24, alleged that Boeing was "blinded by its greed" and rushed the 737 Max 8 to market with the "knowledge and tacit approval" of the Federal Aviation Administration, while hiding defects in its automated flight-control system.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2019, with the headline 'Boeing stands by 737 Max's safety after crash report'. Print Edition | Subscribe