WINDHOEK – The world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing, now faces the dauting task of convincing aviation regulators, airlines and the flying public that its planes are safe after its top brass admitted that a failure in the single-aisle 737 Max jet’s anti-stall system, MCAS, was a factor in last month’s Ethiopian Airlines crash. That disaster, combined with a Lion Air 737 Max crash in Indonesia five months ago, left a total of 346 dead and the admission by Boeing opens the floodgates for lawsuits that one aviation analyst expects to be ‘eye watering’.
Despite the most recent disaster, global airlines have largely stuck by Boeing with about 5 000 plane orders still on its books.
“In the long-term, given there are more than 14 000 single-aisle aircraft in service globally and half of these are Boeings, it is hard to see a scenario where the Max is not returned safely to service and in the long run accepted by the travelling public as a safe aircraft. Compensation is going to be significant factor, and the sums involved are likely to be eye watering,” commented Peter Morris, a chief economist for a global aviation consultancy.
Meanwhile, Boeing issued a statement late last week regarding the release of the preliminary investigation report of the fatal Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 by the Ethiopian Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB).
“Safety is a core value for everyone at Boeing and the safety of our airplanes, our customers’ passengers and crews is always our top priority,” read a statement from Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Kevin McAllister.
He noted that the preliminary report contains flight data recorder information indicating the airplane had an erroneous angle of attack sensor input that activated the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) function during the Ethiopian Airlines flight, as it had during the Indonesian Lion Air 610 flight in October last year.
McAllister added that to ensure unintended MCAS activation will not occur again, Boeing has developed and released a software update to MCAS and an associated comprehensive pilot training and supplementary education program for the 737 MAX.
The update adds additional layers of protection and will prevent erroneous data from causing MCAS activation. Flight crews will now have the ability to override MCAS and manually control the airplane.
Boeing stated that it continues to work with the US Federal Aviation Administration and other regulatory agencies worldwide on the development and certification of the software update and training program.
In a separate statement, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said the company will work closely with customers and global regulators to return the 737 MAX to service.
“We now know that the recent Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accidents were caused by a chain of events, with a common chain link being erroneous activation of the aircraft’s MCAS function. We have the responsibility to eliminate this risk, and we know how to do it. As part of this effort, we’re making progress on the 737 MAX software update that will prevent accidents like these from ever happening again,” Muilenburg assured.
Meanwhile, in statement released late Thursday last week, Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Group acknowledged the preliminary report of the accident, saying the report clearly showed that the Ethiopian Airlines pilots at the helm of ET 302 on 10 March followed the Boeing-recommended and FAA-approved emergency procedures to handle the most difficult emergency situation created on the airplane.
“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. As the investigation continues with more detailed analysis, as usual we will continue with our full cooperation with the investigation team,” read the statement.
“We are very proud of our pilots’ compliances to follow the emergency procedures and high level of professional performances in such extremely difficult situations. We are also very proud of our Global Standard Pilot Training Centre and the Ethiopian Aviation Academy which is one of the largest and most modern in the world equipped with state-of-the-art and latest training technologies … I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our valued customers, the travelling public, the media and global aviation professionals for the remarkably high level of votes of confidence and strong support that you have been giving us starting from the day of this tragic accident.
We will double our efforts every single day to win your confidence and earn your business.
Your safety will remain our top-most priority and we will continue to work together with our partners around the world to make air travel safer and more comfortable,” said Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO, Tewolde GebreMariam. – Additional reporting by BBC News