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Is the Boeing 737 Max 8 at Fault for the Ethiopian Airlines Disaster?

Last Updated September 23, 2020 12:34 PM
Gerelyn Terzo
Last Updated September 23, 2020 12:34 PM

There are no survivors on an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash that occurred on a March 10 flight that was bound for Nairobi. The flight, which took off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is believed to have been carrying 149 passengers and eight crew members, none of whom survived, according to Ethiopian Airlines, which has been providing updates on Twitter.

There is a common denominator between this fatal accident and that of Lion Air in October 2018 that claimed 189 lives in the Java Sea. Both airlines are customers of the same Boeing 737 MAX 8 airplane, which is a newer aircraft that made its debut in 2016 and which begs the question, is Boeing at fault?

According to Flightradar24 , which tracks air traffic in real-time globally, “vertical speed [of the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft] was unstable after take off.” Flightradar24 tracked the flight for approximately three minutes after takeoff.

In a press conference today, an Ethiopian Airlines official stated:

“It is too early to speculate on the cause of the accident and further investigation will be carried out to find out the cause of the accident in collaboration with all stakeholders including the aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, and other international entities to maintain the international standard and information will be provided once the cause is identified.”

The 200-seat Boeing 737 MAX is designed to introduce efficiencies to the industry, such as a double-digit percentage reduction in fuel consumption versus the competing single-aisle aircraft. The plane model was Boeing’s response to the rival Airbus A320, which boasts similar fuel-efficient features. Two crashes involving the same plane model could very well be more than a coincidence, which would be very bad for Boeing.

Eerie Similarities

It’s early days to say precisely what went wrong, with Ethiopian Airlines earlier today performing search and rescue efforts in Bishoftu. The investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines crash isn’t even off the ground, and there’s no word on the recovery of a black box.  Yet, the parallels between this crash and that of Lion Air are eerily similar.

Besides being the same plane model, the Lion Air crash occurred within moments after takeoff in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Ethiopian Airlines accident similarly occurred less than 10 minutes after takeoff, according to reports.

Not only is the Boeing 737 MAX a newer model but it also debuts a brand new feature, which is at the center of the Lion Air crash investigation. It’s an automated system that is meant to prevent a stall and could be what forced a persistent decline in the nose of the Lion Air plane, despite the pilots’ frantic efforts to wrestle back control of the aircraft.

Faulty sensor data on wind direction and speed may be to blame for triggering the tragic chain of events over the Java Sea. Pilots were reportedly ill-informed about changes in the flight control system that led to the tragic outcome, a decision that was reportedly jointly made by both Boeing and the F.A.A.

The Lion Air crash remains under investigation as of February 2019.  It’s unclear whether there was a similar scenario on the Ethiopian Airlines flight. An eye witness to the Ethiopian Airlines crash described an “intense fire” to BBC , saying:

“The blast and the fire were so strong that we couldn’t get near it. Everything is burnt down. There are four helicopters at the scene now.”

Courtesy: BBC

Boeing Chief Dennis Muilenburg maintains that “the 737 MAX is safe,” telling Fox Business  in the wake of the Lion Air tragedy: “Safety is a core value for us… we ensure that airplanes are safe.”

Despite the fact that it’s too soon to draw any concrete conclusions, Boeing had better figure it out fast. They have dozens of 737 MAX customers, from Air Canada to Icelandair, all of whom could be at risk if the fault lies with the plane. Meanwhile, Boeing shares are actually up since October , which is when the fatal Lion Air crash occurred, suggesting that investors are not ready to bail on the aircraft maker just yet.