Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 Crash
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Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 Crash

Update March 14, 12:00 PM

  • 157 confirmed casualties in March 10, 2019 tragedy
  • Second crash of new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in less than 6 months
  • US finally joins Canada and more than 40 countries including all of the EU, China, Australia, India and New Zealand to temporarily ground 737 MAX 8 aircraft from their airspace until safety assured
  • Reports of at least 5 anonymous pilot incident reports to US aviation authorities about problems with the 737 MAX 8 aircraft
  • Report of November 2018 meeting between Boeing and Pliot Group where Pilots voiced concerns with new 737 MAX aircraft following Lion Air crash
  • Investigation focuses on “Black Box” data analysis and similarities between Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes, and function of Boeing’s new “MCAS” system


Ethiopian Airlines 302 — The Accident

In the early morning hours of Sunday March 11, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 on board.

The flight was en route from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Nairobi, Kenya.

It has been reported that there were 149 passengers and 8 crew members. The passengers were from many different countries, including 18 Canadians and 8 Americans.

It has been reported that the flight crew reported technical difficulties after takeoff and asked for clearance to return to Addis Ababa. The airline reported that the pilot-in-command had logged more than 8,000 flying hours and had an “excellent flying record.”

The airline declined any further comment about the possible causes of the crash other than to say that there was a new aircraft flown by a skilled and experienced flight crew.

The Earlier Lion Air Crash

The same type of aircraft – the Boeing 737 MAX 8 – operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air, also crashed shortly after take-off on October 29, 2018 killing all 189 passengers and crew on board.

The crash of Lion Air Flight 610 is currently under investigation and it is not presently known if there is a connection between that flight and the present Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

It has been reported that the two “Black Boxes” (digital flight data recorder (“DFDR”) and cockpit voice recorder (“CVR”)) have been located in the Ethiopian crash and there is no doubt that investigators will be carefully scrutinizing whether there are common contributing factors to the two crashes of the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, shortly after take-off, less than 6 months apart.

In both Ethiopian Airlines 302 and Lion Air 610 it has been reported that the flight crew requested immediate return to the departure airport within minutes of take-off. Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (“ADS-B”) sources have indicated that Ethiopian Airlines 302 was having difficulty in the initial climb out phase of the flight as it appeared to rise, dip, and then sharply rise in altitude before falling precipitously to the ground. In a normal climb out, an aircraft will continuously climb until a cruising altitude is reached and then will level off. The currently available ADS-B data will be compared with the data from the recently recovered DFDR and CVR.

The similarities between the two crashes have resulted in special attention paid to the 737 MAX 8 aircraft series.

After the Lion Air crash, the US FAA issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive which provided a detailed checklist of steps to follow when an aircraft experiences a “runaway stabilizer” event, like the event apparently experienced by the Lion Air flight crew. The FAA acknowledged that the problem could cause the flight crew to have difficulty controlling the airplane, and lead to excessive nose-down attitude, significant altitude loss, and possible impact with terrain. The FAA, also noted at the time that, although an evaluation of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 software and design would continue, there would be no investigation beyond what was being carried out in cooperation with Indonesian authorities on the Lion Air crash.

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft is in wide use with over 350 currently in operation by 54 operators, according to the US FAA.

Ethiopian Airlines 302: Aftermath

In the aftermath of Ethiopian Airlines 302 there has been a growing call for the 737 MAX 8 aircraft to be grounded pending investigation and assurances of safety.

As of the time of this report (March 14 at 12:00 pm ET) the United States finally joined Canada and more than 40 countries including all of the EU, Australia, New Zealand, China and India to temporarily ground the aircraft.

In Canada, WestJet is reported to have 13 new 737 MAX 8 aircraft which were first introduced into its fleet in 2017. Air Canada has 24 of the aircraft.

In the US, American Airlines (with 24 of the 737 MAX 8 aircraft) and Southwest Airlines (with 34 of the aircraft), have not, as yet, taken steps to ground these planes.

On Tuesday March 12, the acting FAA director Daniel Elwell is reported to have said that there was “no basis to order grounding” of the planes. “Thus far, our review shows no systematic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft.”

The Dallas News reported late March 12, 2019 that “Several Boeing 737 MAX 8 pilots in US complained about suspected safety flaw.” The report went on:

“Pilots repeatedly voiced safety concerns about the Boeing 737 Max 8 to federal authorities, with one captain calling the flight manual “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient” several months before Sunday’s Ethiopian Air crash that killed 157 people, an investigation by The Dallas Morning News found.

The disclosures found by The News reference problems with an autopilot system, and they all occurred during the ascent after takeoff. Many mentioned the plane suddenly nosing down. While records show these flights occurred in October and November, the airlines the pilots were flying for is redacted from the database.

Records show that a captain who flies the Max 8 complained in November that it was “unconscionable” that the company and federal authorities allowed pilots to fly the planes without adequate training or fully disclosing information about how its systems were different from those on previous 737 models.

The captain’s complaint was logged after the FAA released an emergency airworthiness directive about the Boeing 737 Max 8 in response to the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia.”

CNN also reported this morning (March 13) that US pilots made confidential incident reports to a US anonymous data base at least 5 times about problems with the 737 MAX 8 aircraft. According to CNN,

“Some of the pilots logged complaints about unintended nose-down situations while flying the Max 8 jet, which has now been involved in two deadly crashes in less than six months.

One wrote that they turned autopilot on, and “within two to three seconds the aircraft pitched nose down,” causing the plane’s safety system to sound the warning “Don’t sink, don’t sink.”

“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,” the pilot wrote.

A separate complaint also noted undesired nose down while on autopilot”

On March 13, Canada’s Minister of Transport Marc Garrneau confirmed that Canada is grounding the 737 MAX 8 and 9 aircraft and banning them from its airspace. Minister Garneau stated:

“This safety notice restricts commercial passenger flights from any air operator, both domestic and foreign, of the Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft from arriving, departing, or overflying Canadian airspace.”

Tellingly, Minister Garneau made a connection between Ethiopian Airlines 302 and the Lion Air crashes:

“There are – and I hasten to say not conclusive – but there are similarities…. My departmental officials continue to monitor the situation and I will not hesitate to take swift action should we discover any additional safety issues.”

Mary Schiavo, aviation attorney and former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, called the two incidents “highly suspicious.”

“Here we have a brand-new aircraft that’s gone down twice in a year. That rings alarm bells in the aviation industry, because that just doesn’t happen,” she said. “New aircraft,” she noted, “usually brings improved safety statistics.

Though it is too soon to conclude that these two crashes were caused by the same faulty design, investigators will certainly compare the data from the two events to determine what were the contributing factors and causes; and what could have been done to prevent the tragic loss of life.

Boeing released a statement saying it is “deeply saddened” by the crash, adding that it “stands ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team” and will “provide technical assistance” under the direction of the US NTSB.

News and expert commentary is focusing increasingly on the “Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System” (“MCAS”) deployed on the aircraft.

The Washington Post reported on March 14 about a November 2018 meeting in Dallas between Boeing and a pilot group who expressed concerns following the Lion Air Crash:

“After the Ethio­pian Airlines crash Sunday, Boeing said it would update flight-control software, provide more training, introduce “enhancements” to external sensors that measure the direction of an aircraft and make changes to how MCAS is activated.

But two pilots who attended the meeting with Boeing in November after the Lion Air crash said pilots had suggested that the company take these actions at that time.

“Whatever level of training they decided on [before the Lion Air crash], it resulted in an iPad course that I took for less than an hour,” Tajer, the American Airlines pilot, said. “A lot of pilots here at American did that course.”

But he said the course did not cover the new MCAS system. “There was nothing on the MCAS because even American didn’t know about that. It was just about the display scenes and how the engines are a little different,” he said.

Boeing did not comment on the pilots’ concerns.”

The immediate next steps in the Ethiopian Airlines 302 accident investigation will include:

– reviewing the data from the DFDR and CVR and comparing the flight operational information from the Ethiopian Airline 302 and Lion Air crashes;

– following up on the 5 US pilot incident reports of problems with the 737 MAX 8 aircraft in the months following the Lion Air crash;

– examining the 737 MAX 8 “Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (“MCAS”) when aircraft is in auto flight with the Auto Pilot and Auto Throttles engaged after take-off, and whether MCAS malfunctions are implicated in any or all of Ethiopian Airlines 302, Lion Air, and the 5 US pilot incident reports;

– determining what Boeing knew, when they knew it, and what if anything was communicated to the FAA and air carriers about problems, if any, with the MCAS;

– examining the adequacy of the Airworthiness Directive issued by the FAA following the Lion Air crash in October, and whether Ethiopian Airlines adequately implemented it.

Interested individuals please contact responsible lead partner Vincent Genova at 416-363-1867 ext. 223, or alternatively Jon Sloan at extension 299.