Boeing to make safety feature standard on troubled Max jets

Photo: AFP

Ethiopia-plane Crash Boeing will make standard on its troubled new airliner a safety feature that might have helped the crew of a jet that crashed shortly after takeoff last year in Indonesia, killing everyone on board.

The equipment, which had been offered as an option, alerts pilots of faulty information from key sensors. It will now be included on every 737 Max as part of changes that Boeing is rushing to complete on the jets by early next week, according to a person familiar with the changes.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Boeing and federal regulators are still discussing details of the upgrade to the Max fleet, which was grounded worldwide after a second deadly crash this month in Ethiopia.

The cause of the accidents has not been determined, but investigators probing the crash of a Lion Air Max jet have focused on an automated system designed to use information from two sensors to help prevent a dangerous aerodynamic stall.

The sensors measure whether the plane is pointed up, down or level in relation to the direction of onrushing air. Software on the Max can push the plane's nose down if data from one of the sensors indicates the plane is tilted up so sharply that it could stall and fall from the sky.

In the Lion Air case, the sensors malfunctioned and gave wildly conflicting information, and the plane crashed minutes after takeoff. A preliminary report described a grim fight by the pilots to control the plane as it pitched downward more than two dozen times.

It is not known whether the same flight-control system played a role in the March 10 crash of the Ethiopian Airlines jet shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, but regulators say both planes had similar erratic flight paths, an important part of their decision to ground the roughly 370 Max planes around the world.

The CEO of Ethiopian Airlines said Thursday that the carrier's pilots went through all the extra training required by Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to fly the 737 Max 8 jet that crashed, killing 157 people from 35 countries.

Tewolde Gebremariam said the training was meant to help crews shift from an older model of the 737 to the Max 8, which entered airline service in 2017. In a statement, he said pilots were also made aware of an emergency directive issued by the FAA after the Lion Air crash, which killed 189 people.

The New York Times reported that the pilots of the Ethiopian plane never trained in a simulator for the plane. Gebremariam said that the 737 Max simulator is not designed to imitate problems in the new jet's flight-control software. He declined to say whether the pilots had trained on the simulator.

The Ethiopian jetliner was on a regularly scheduled flight from Ethiopia to neighboring Kenya. The families of Kenyan victims are asking their government for legal assistance in pursuing compensation.

Boeing 737 MAX to face first congressional hearing

Boeing's ill-fated 737 MAX and federal regulators next week will face the first public grilling by Congress over the two fatal plane crashes in recent months.

Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican, called for a hearing of the Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation and Space, for March 27, with three transportation officials, notably the acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Cruz intends to hold a second hearing to question Boeing officials as well as pilots and others in the industry, according to the statement.

More than 300 people perished in the two crashes of 737 MAX 8s that occurred shortly after takeoff in Indonesia in October and in Ethiopia earlier this month.

Boeing and the FAA are under investigation by the Transportation Department for how the rollout of the jet was handled, especially the a new flight system, the MCAS stall-prevention system, which was implicated in the Lion Air crash in October.

Pilots have complained they were not informed about the new system, which can force the nose of the plane down if it gets an erroneous reading from a sensor making it appear the plane is at risk of stalling.

The committee will hear next week from FAA acting chief Daniel Elwell, as well as the Transportation Department's chief investigator, Calvin Scovel, and National Transportation Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt.

The FAA said Wednesday it will review the information from the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder from the Ethiopian Airlines accident as it becomes available.

"Understanding the circumstances that contributed to this accident is critical in developing further actions and returning aircraft to service," the FAA said.

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