The CEO of Boeing admitted Thursday that, following the release of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 preliminary investigation, it was apparent that a suspect feature called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, was activated in response to data errors in the system.
“We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the recent 737 MAX accidents. These tragedies continue to weigh heavily on our hearts and minds, and we extend our sympathies to the loved ones of the passengers and crew on board Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302,” said Dennis Muilenburg. “All of us feel the immense gravity of these events across our company and recognize the devastation of the families and friends of the loved ones who perished.”
He went on to say Boeing is relentlessly working to fix the issue. “As pilots have told us, erroneous activation of the MCAS function can add to what is already a high workload environment. It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk,” Muilenburg said. “We own it and we know how to do it.”
The company’s response came as the role of the MCAS and the related angle of attack (AOA) data readings in the March 10 crash became clearer. The pilots refer to a problem with those readings that can be heard on the cockpit voice recorder, indicating that they identified the source of the problem, and they fought for the control of the Boeing 737 MAX8 as the automatic system forced a nose dive at least four times.
That’s according to the Ethiopian authorities’ report, completed in assistance with French and U.S. agencies. The Federal Aviation Administration in the U.S. said it will be months before a final investigation is complete. “We continue to work toward a full understanding of all aspects of this incident,” the FAA said in its response to the report. “As we learn more about the accident and findings become available, we will take appropriate action.”
Pilots of the doomed Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 tried to no avail to pull the aircraft out of the catastrophic nose dive, said the response from the company, which in recent weeks has been frustrated by international reports suggesting a lack of experience, Ethiopian’s training or other causal factors.
The preliminary report clearly shows that Ethiopian Airlines pilot Yared Getachew and first officer Ahmednur Mohammed, who were commanding the flight, followed the emergency procedures recommended by Boeing and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States, the airlines said in a statement Thursday. The company said it was proud of its crew’s professionalism in such difficult circumstances.
“Despite their hard work and full compliance with the emergency procedures, it was very unfortunate that they could not recover the airplane from the persistence of nose diving,” the Ethiopian Airlines statement added. “As the investigation continues with more detailed analysis, as usual we will continue with our full cooperation with the investigation team.”
Investigators previously noted that their early findings on what went wrong in the crash, which claimed the lives of all 157 people on board, was consistent with problems linked to the suspect feature in the Boeing aircraft. It’s the same systems control feature that was implicated in the October 2018 crash of Lion Air Flight 610, which claimed the lives of all 189 people on board.
That incident first drew attention to the Boeing MCAS. Boeing announced last week that new software updates are designed to “provide additional layers of protection” if the AOA sensors provide erroneous data.
“From the days immediately following the Lion Air accident, we’ve had teams of our top engineers and technical experts working tirelessly in collaboration with the (FAA) and our customers to finalize and implement a software update that will ensure accidents like that of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 never happen again,” said Muilenburg.
Unfortunately, the upgrades were not yet available when the second crash occurred.
The Boeing CEO said the certification and implementation of the upgrades is expected in the weeks ahead, along with the pilot training and education materials, but he did not give a hard timeline. Meanwhile, the MAX series planes remain grounded all over the world until their safety is approved.
“We remain confident in the fundamental safety of the 737 MAX. All who fly on it—the passengers, flight attendants and pilots, including our own families and friends—deserve our best,” Muilenburg said, adding that he cannot remember a more heart-wrenching time in more than three decades with Boeing.
“When the MAX returns to the skies with the software changes to the MCAS function, it will be among the safest airplanes ever to fly,” he said.
A number of lawsuits already have been filed against Boeing, with plans to file against the FAA too, including another on Thursday on behalf of the family of Samya Stumo, a 24-year-old U.S. citizen who died in the crash.
“Blinded by its greed, Boeing haphazardly rushed the 737 MAX 8 to market, with the knowledge and tacit approval of the United States Federal Aviation Administration,” the lawsuit filed in Chicago said. The city is where Boeing is headquartered.
A video of Muilenburg and his statement is available here.
Image: Ethiopian Airlines