The world is awaiting word on the cause of the Ethiopian Air crash that killed 157 people on March 10. The aircraft went down shortly after takeoff with the flight crew apparently reporting control problems.
While there is little information to be had so far, the crash is being compared to the Lion Air Flight 610 incident in Indonesia that killed 189 people less than six months ago. Both planes were Boeing 737 Max 8 models.
The investigation of the Lion Air accident revealed an issue with one of the plane’s automated flight control systems. Specifically, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, MCAS for short, continually tried to push the nose of the aircraft down during the take off climb out. In response, the pilots continually tried to pull the nose back up so that the plane could reach a safe altitude. The ultimate result of that struggle was a complete loss of control and a nosedive into the Java Sea.
Some early reports blame the Lion Air crash on a faulty angle of attack sensor, which was feeding bad information to the aircraft’s flight computer. That investigation, however, is ongoing. One thing is clear though, the Ethiopian Air pilots were reporting control issues that were very similar to those experienced by the Lion Air pilots.
The obvious question raised is whether there is a dangerous systemic issue that exists in the Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes. This model of airplane is fairly new and is used by many airlines worldwide, including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines in the United States.
Recently revealed documents show that several U.S. pilots complained to the FAA several months ago about the Max 8 flight characteristics and the lack of adequate instructions and procedures in the Boeing flight manual. The FAA and the airlines flying this plane, however, maintain that the aircraft is perfectly safe.
Interestingly, many other countries are not so sure. Britain, France, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Australia, China, India and Indonesia, to name a few, have grounded all 737 Max 8 airplanes in their countries. Several have even forbidden the airplane from flying anywhere in their airspace.
Not the U.S. though. Even in light of the similarities between the two recent tragedies, the FAA is standing firm that it sees no reason to ground this aircraft. One has to wonder why. Is the FAA that confident that U.S. pilots could handle an in flight issue so much better than pilots from other countries? As noted above, apparently the actual U.S. pilots aren’t. Or is this just one more example of the FAA’s body count approach to safety, which in essence means that it will not disturb the economics of aviation until forced to do so because of a really high body count.
In any event, the FAA should stop protecting Boeing and stop taking unnecessary risks with the lives of the thousands of passengers who fly on these aircraft each week.