Boeing vows to heed Ethiopia’s crash report

Boeing CEO in 737 MAX cockpit
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg sits behind pilots during a 737 MAX airplane flight that demonstrated the performance of a flight control software update. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing executives said today that they would take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of the company’s 737 MAX airplanes, after Ethiopia’s Civil Aviation Authority issued a preliminary report saying that an Ethiopian Airlines jet was felled last month due to the same sensor problem that caused a fatal crash in Indonesia less than five months earlier.

The Ethiopian crash and last October’s Lion Air crash in Indonesia killed a total of 346 people and led to the worldwide grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplanes. Like investigators in Indonesia, the Ethiopian investigators said an automated flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, forced the plane into a catastrophic dive.

Boeing’s software-based MCAS system was added to the 737 MAX as a safeguard against stalling, but in both cases, investigators said a faulty sensor fed bad data into the system. The preliminary report on the Ethiopian crash, issued today, said the pilots tried Boeing’s recommended procedure for overriding the MCAS system but still failed to regain control of the plane.

In one statement, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said it was apparent that the MCAS system added to what is already a high workload environment. “It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk,” he said. “We own it, and we know how to do it.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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