Boeing is now apologizing after an investigation revealed that the crash of a recent Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane was likely caused by the same malfunctioning sensor that was responsible for a Lion Air crash out of Indonesia last year.
In a video and press release posted to Boeing’s website, Chairman, President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg issued an apology for the two plane accidents. He acknowledged that it appears that both flights suffered from erroneous angle of attack information, which activated the 737 MAX’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
Ethiopian Airline Flight 302 fell from the air just minutes into its flight on March 10, killing all 157 passengers and crew. The accident drew immediate comparisons to another deadly crash last year, involving the same new Boeing 737 Max plane.
On October 10, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the sea just 13 minutes into its flight, killing all 189 passengers and crew. Investigators have determined the pilots fought for 11 minutes to keep the plane in the air, likely due to a problem with the plane’s Angle of Attack (AOA) sensor, which kept telling an automated system, which the pilots could not shut off, to point the nose down.
After similarities were discovered between the two crashes, nations worldwide grounded Boeing’s entire 737 MAX fleet until further investigations into this latest crash could be completed and any safety issues addressed.
The preliminary report from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Transport (PDF) was released last week, indicating the crash was indeed likely caused by the same problems that led to the Lion Air accident.
“The history of our industry shows most accidents are caused by a chain of events. This again is the case here, and we know we can break one of those chain links in these two accidents,” Muilenburg said. “As pilots have told us, erroneous activation of the MCAS function can add to what is already a high workload environment. It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it and we know how to do it.”
Boeing recently announced a software fix for the planes, which prevents the MCAS from repeatedly trying to pitch the nose down once the pilots have pulled it back up. Boeing says this will prevent pilots from having to fight with the automated system, as it will detect that the pilots want the nose up and will stop trying to correct itself. However, the company said the patch still needs work for several additional weeks.
Muilenberg said there will likely be more software updates and fixes coming, which will keep the company’s fleet of 737 MAX airplanes grounded for some time.
The report from Ethiopia called for Boeing to fix the problem, but also called for regulators to closely examine the fix to make sure it works before allowing the planes to fly again.
The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have launched a criminal probe into the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX jet, in addition to ongoing investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board as well as French investigators who are examining the Ethiopian Airlines flight’s black box.
The FAA says the 737 MAX will return to service when the agency’s analysis of safety data indicates it is appropriate.
The 737 MAX is Boeing’s best selling aircraft with $500 billion at list prices. The company had 400 planes in operation around the world with orders for 5,000 more before countries began grounding the jets after the recent crashes.
Boeing faces a growing number of wrongful death lawsuits from family members of victims of both accidents.