Ethiopian Airlines Flight Tragedy


Another grim disaster, claiming 157 lives

On March 10, the Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 crashed, leaving all 157 people onboard dead.

The passengers were citizens from 35 countries. Kenyans were the most represented nationality, with 32 losing their lives. Canadians were the second largest group, with 18 fatalities.

The United Nations has stated that 21 people who lost their lives onboard Flight ET302 were affiliated with the organization.

It is likely that it will be months before the full investigative reports are made public. But, there are some leads.

The model of aircraft which crashed shortly after take off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is known as a “737 Max 8.” It’s a new iteration of the Boeing 737, which is one of the most successful airliner series in the world active since 1968. The Max 8 is one of Boeing’s newest airliners, beginning service with Malaysia’s Malindo Air on May 22, 2017.

The new design includes improved aerodynamics, more efficient and powerful CFM LEAP engines, and an updated cabin which rides lower to the ground. The lower profile of the aircraft was included in the design to make the aircraft more suitable for smaller airports with limited ground equipment. While this may sound like a small design change, it wasn’t.

Because the aircraft sits lower to the ground, the position of its new, larger engines had to be adjusted. In response, Boeing moved the engines a little further forward and higher up on the underwing pylons. If the engines were too low, they could potentially intake rubbish from the runway, to catastrophic effect. The chosen design allowed Boeing to fit the new engines without necessitating an entire fuselage redesign.

But, it was not without its flaws. The changed position of the engines created a possible risk that the nose would pitch up during flight, which could cause stalling. To mitigate the risk, Boeing created a software called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. MCAS couples with a sensor on the fuselage that would detect if the nose is too high and automatically make corrections.

Back on October 29, Lion Air flight 610 crashed in the Java sea, killing 189 people, The circumstances were similar, crashing shortly after take off. The aircraft, also a 737 Max 8.

Examination into the Lion Air crash found that the pilots were unable to control the airspeed or altitude of the airliner and after each time they pulled up from a dive the system forced it down again.

According to the New York Times, a warning light which was intended to warn pilots of the faulty sensor was sold by Boeing as part of an optional instrument package. When CNET asked about the warning light a Boeing spokesman said:

“All Boeing airplanes are certified and delivered to the highest levels of safety consistent with industry standards. Airplanes are delivered with a baseline configuration, which includes a standard set of flight deck displays and alerts, crew procedures and training materials that meet industry safety norms and most customer requirements. Customers may choose additional options, such as alerts and indications, to customize their airplanes to support their individual operations or requirements.”

Questions were raised over the training of the pilot in the March 10 flight. But Ethiopian Airlines, which is regarded as likely the safest airline in Africa, has responded, claiming that it’s pilots completed the training recommended by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing.

Despite Boeing’s claims that the Max 8 is perfectly safe, the FAA has joined the list of more than 40 countries which have grounded the aircraft, citing similarities between ET302’s crash and that of Lion Air flight 610.

Boeing has been backlogged for orders of the Max 8 jet, but now many airlines are getting cold feet. One of the biggest developments being Garuda Indonesia’s sought cancellation of its order for 49 of Boeing’s 737 Max 8’s. A multi-billion dollar deal.

Boeing shares have dropped 14% since the Ethiopia Airlines crash.

The investigation remains ongoing.