What really caused the Ethiopian Airlines Crash?

Disclaimer: This article includes news coverage up until 25th March 2019. Further updates in the investigation will render this article subject to change.

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Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 claimed the lives of all 157 passengers after a fatal crash on 10 March 2019. The flight was a mere 6 minutes into its journey before complications arose, leading to its tragic crash near Addis Ababa.

Among the 157 fatalities, 19 United Nations members lost their lives on the morning of 10 March 2019. Thorough investigations were conducted on 12 March 2019 in an effort to recover vital information sources such as the aircraft’s black box. Forensic investigators, together with Ethiopian Airlines’ employees combed through the debris of the crash site, guarding themselves with surgical masks and white forensic suits. The aircraft was reduced to several broken pieces, however, after hours of searching, the black box was ultimately recovered. The recordings that were recovered from the black box revealed pertinent information relating to the crash. This information is currently being analysed for details regarding the flight pattern, distress signals and software malfunctions.

The Kenya-bound plane is the second tragic crash involving the notorious Boeing 737 max 8 airplanes. The previous incident, involving the Indonesian Lion Air flight, occurred no less than five months prior to the Ethiopian Airlines crash. Thorough investigations into both flights revealed an unsettling number of similarities between the nature of the crash. In both instances, the pilots identified complications within the aircraft, requested an emergency landing, and tragically lost contact with ground control. Initial reporting alleged that the aircraft’s automatic control systems, specifically, the  Boeing’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) were to blame for the deadly crash. The MCAS is an anti-stall software system that aims to prevent the aircraft from stalling during the flight. Senior officials close to the case have confirmed their belief that the MCAS was active during both the Ethiopian Airlines crash, as well as the Indonesian Airlines crash. Reports also called into question the capability of the aircraft’s crew, citing a lack of simulation training as a possible reason for their failure to shut down the MCAS software. However, these allegations were refuted in recent reports by a direct statement from the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, Tewolde GebreMariam. GebreMariam, who has publicly criticised Boeing’s lack of transparency regarding changes in the operation of the MCAS software, expressed his frustrations regarding the questioning of his crew. GebreMariam insists that all Ethiopian Airlines crew are fully prepared and adequately trained to handle crisis situations. GebreMariam also referred to the crew’s intensive simulation training, ultimately holding Boeing responsible for their inability to inform crew of the MCAS’ latest operational changes. GebreMariam’s reference to MCAS’ involvement emphasises the role that Boeing’s anti-stalling software played in the crash. After the Indonesian Airlines crash, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg publicly admitted that the company should have provided full disclosure regarding the operation of the MCAS. Therefore, while English and French investigators continue to analyse the flight data, it is evident that the recent alterations to the MCAS played a definitive role in both Boeing aircraft crashes.

The consecutive crashes involving the Boeing 737 max 8 aircrafts have resulted in the tarnished reputation of a once reputable manufacturer. Data analysis that was collected in the aftermath of the Ethiopian Airlines crash show a startling decrease in the company’s market value. With shares dropping between 5-13,5% since the crash, Boeing has suffered blows to both its reputation as well as its financial state, with reports indicating that the company has lost billions of dollars already.

News of the second fatal crash in five short months caused widespread panic among customers, as well as the airlines carrying Boeing 737 max 8 aircrafts in their fleet. The Ethiopian Airlines crash triggered international outrage, resulting in the grounding of Boeing 737 aircrafts in countries all over the world. The United Kingdom, Australia and China are a few of the countries who have banned the departure and arrival of Boeing 737 aircrafts on their land. The international protest against Boeing’s frequent malfunctions, together with the lack of transparency provided by the company, has resulted in many people refusing to travel aboard the specific aircraft. In the days following the crash, many airlines provided passengers with the option to be refunded, should their plane be identified as a Boeing 737.

Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, made a statement offering condolences to the families of the victims as well as to Ethiopian Airlines. Muilenburg acknowledged Boeing’s failure to fully disclose information, while simultaneously revealing the company’s plan to release an updated software system in the near future. The software system will be updated in accordance with the investigation’s findings. The company has also assured the public that detail and care will be applied during the update process, so as to not create additional complications in the aircraft’s software. Boeing have yet to announce an estimated date regarding the release of the updated software, however, passengers and airlines can rest assured in the knowledge that all Boeing 737 max aircrafts will remain grounded during the construction process.

On behalf of all South Africans, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims. We will continue to keep you in our thoughts and prayers, while actively lobbying for increased transparency. 

Copyright

Priyanka Govender © 2019.

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