Europe

Boeing suspends all delivery of 737 MAX jets as France begins blackbox probe

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Boeing says it is pausing deliveries of its 737 MAX aircraft to customers following the grounding of the jetliner by the United States and around the world.

But says production of the 737 MAX planes is continuing.

The 737 MAX has been banned from flying in most countries after an Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday that killed all 157 people on board.

This was a second deadly incident involving the relatively new Boeing model in five months.

In October, a Lion Air jet crashed in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board.

Garuda looks to cancel orders

Garuda Indonesia’s chief executive said there is a “possibility” the airline will cancel its orders of Boeing Co’s 737 MAXs, with the final decision depending on what the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does.

A Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft is in hangar before the inspection at Garuda Maintenance Facility at Soekarno Hatta airport, Jakarta.
A Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft is in hangar before the inspection at Garuda Maintenance Facility at Soekarno Hatta airport, Jakarta.
AP

“Garuda is reconsidering its upcoming order of 20 Boeing 737 MAXs after the two Boeing crashes,” CEO Ari Askhara told reporters on Thursday, adding its only Boeing 737 MAX would stay grounded until “there’s notification from the FAA”.

Askhara said his airline had decided to reduce the order from 49 “before the crashes”.

He told Reuters in February that the carrier wanted to swap some of its order for MAX 8s for widebody Boeing models.

Indonesia’s Lion Air Managing Director Daniel Putut told Reuters on Wednesday the airline has postponed all planned 737 MAX deliveries until at least the release of a final report into its crash last year.

The report is due later this year, and follows a draft report that pointed to issues with Boeing’s anti-stall system, as well as the airline’s training and maintenance.

Lion Air has not yet decided whether to cancel the order for 737 MAX, Putut said.

France probes Boeing black boxes

France's BEA air safety agency confirmed it has received the recorders from the plane that crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday, killing all 157 people aboard.

BEA investigators will try to retrieve information from the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, which were damaged in the disaster.

Thousands of kilometres away, distraught families were demanding answers as they visited the deep black crater where the plane smashed into a field outside the capital, disintegrating on impact.

The headquarters of the BEA
The headquarters of the BEA
AP

The plane was less than four months old when it went down just six minutes into its flight to Nairobi.

Ethiopian Airlines, Africa's largest carrier, sent the boxes to France because it does not have the equipment to analyse the data.  

The information that black boxes contain helps explain 90 percent of all crashes, according to aviation experts.

On Wednesday, US authorities said new evidence showed similarities between the Ethiopia crash and that of a Lion Air flight in Indonesia in October that claimed the lives of 189 people.  

The Federal Aviation Administration said findings from the crash site near Addis and "newly refined satellite data" warranted "further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents". 

Safety of 'paramount concern'

An FAA emergency order grounded 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft until further notice, effectively taking the aircraft out of the skies globally.

The move came after a growing number of airlines and countries had already decided not to fly the planes or ban them from their airspace until it was ascertained there are no safety issues.

Trump told reporters the "safety of the American people and all peoples is our paramount concern".

FAA acting chief Daniel Elwell said the agency has been "working tirelessly" to find the cause of the accident but faced delays because of the damage to the flight data recorders.

The new information shows "the track of that airplane was close enough to the track of the Lion Air flight... to warrant the grounding of the airplanes so we could get more information from the black boxes and determine if there's a link between the two, and if there is, find a fix to that link," Elwell said on CNBC.

Boeing's shares have sunk 10 percent since Sunday's crash, wiping more than $20 billion off the company's market value.

Boeing chief Dennis Muilenburg said he supported the US decision "out of an abundance of caution" but had "full confidence" in the safety of the plane.

The company continues its efforts "to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again," he said in a statement.

The MAX series is Boeing's fastest-selling model, but it is still relatively new with fewer than 500 in service.

There are 74 registered in the United States and 387 in use worldwide with 59 carriers, according to the FAA.

Pilots concerns

The accounts of the recent crashes were echoed in concerns registered by US pilots on how the MAX 8 behaves.

At least four American pilots made reports following the Lion Air crash, all complaining the aircraft suddenly pitched downwards shortly after takeoff, according to documents reviewed by AFP on the Aviation Safety Reporting System, a voluntary incident database maintained by NASA.

In two anonymous reports on flights just after the Lion Air disaster, pilots disconnected the autopilot and corrected the plane's trajectory.

The Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 - Max 8 plane, that crashed Sunday March 10, 2019.
The Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 - Max 8 plane, that crashed Sunday March 10, 2019.
AAP Image/ AP Photo/Preston Fiedler

One said the flight crew reviewed the incident "at length... but can't think of any reason the aircraft would pitch nose-down so aggressively."

It was unclear if US transport authorities review the database or investigate the incidents. However, the FAA said this week it had mandated that Boeing update its flight software and training on the aircraft.

Questions about the Lion Air crash have honed in on an automated stall prevention system, the MCAS, designed to automatically point the plane's nose downwards if it is in danger of stalling.

According to the flight data recorder, the pilots of Lion Air Flight 610 struggled to control the aircraft as the MCAS repeatedly pushed the nose down following takeoff.

The Ethiopian Airlines pilots reported similar difficulties before their aircraft plunged to the ground as they tried to return to the airport.

Boeing was criticised after the Lion Air crash for allegedly failing to adequately inform 737 pilots about the functioning of the stall prevention system.

Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam said Sunday the flight's captain Yared Mulugeta Getachew, 29, was an experienced aviator with more than 8,000 flight hours.

BEA said any information about the investigation would come from Ethiopian Airlines, which itself tweeted that it  would only communicate through social media and its website.

Andrew Hunter, a defence industry expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that while Boeing and the FAA had good track records on addressing safety concerns, sometimes the combination of automated systems and humans did not work smoothly.

"It is hard to get a system to work seamlessly with human beings," he told AFP. 

"The fact the system was fighting the pilot was not an unintended consequence," because it should counteract a pilot error and correcting this is "challenging". 

The Ethiopian Airlines plane was less than four months old when it went down six minutes into its flight to Nairobi.

Source AFP - SBS, AAP - SBS, Reuters - SBS

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