Use caution about Ethiopian 737-8 crash/Update: China, airline ground Max

UPDATE, 4:30pm PDT: China and Grand Cayman Airlines have ground the 737 MAX. Developing.

UPDATE, 6:45pm PDT: China CAAC to review grounding order on their Monday, March 11, for further action.

 

March 10, 2019 (c) Leeham News: The crash today of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-8 MAX is raising more intense questions–and speculation–than usual after a crash because it comes in the wake of the Lion Air 737-8 crash last year.

But be cautious about drawing conclusions at this stage. Until the black boxes are recovered, information is limited.

Dominic Gates of The Seattle Times has about as comprehensive a wrap up at this stage on the available information here.

It should be noted that Ethiopian is considered one of the best airlines in the world and the best in Africa. It’s got a good safety record and service is considered very good. This is in contrast to the spotty safety record of Lion Air.

Below are factors investigators will consider:

Areas to probe

In no particular order, investigors will look into:

  • The airplane and any mechanical fault, especially in context of the Lion Air accident in which MCAS appears to have played a critical role.
  • Human error: as in Lion Air, were there maintenance issues with MCAS, or some other component; did pilots respond to the event properly?
  • Mechanical failure, whether of MCAS or something else.
  • Influence of weather, such as clear air turbulent or something else?
  • Design flaws of whatever nature.
  • Pilot training, health and performance histories.
  • Maintenance history of this nearly new 737-8.
  • Outside influences, such as terrorist acts.
  • The day before, a 737-800 operated by Canada’s Air Transat made an emergency landing in Newark (NJ) due to a fire warning in the cargo hold. Was there something similar on this flight?

This only is the tip of the list for investigators.

Posted 11:20am PDT.

100 Comments on “Use caution about Ethiopian 737-8 crash/Update: China, airline ground Max

  1. Over 300 people have died between the two 737 MAX accidents. Would it not be cautious to ground the fleet until they find out what happened and implement a fix if required?

    • @Trooper: What if this were a terrorist event and not a mechanical? What if this were a hazmat fire? I’m not remotely prepared to suggest a grounding.

      • No there is little chance of terrorism since the pilot reported technical difficulties and requested to land. If you look at the flight profile of Lion Air 610 and the reported dips in altitude of Ethiopian flight 409 you would have to say their are many similarities. Caution would dictate a grounding until the cause is determined.

        • I agree, terrorism can be discounted. ATC have a recording of what the pilots said when they requested to return. No need to wait for the black boxes

        • For there to be a grounding it is necessary to be sure

          1. that there is a second and same accident.

          2. If the causes are identified.

          For the moment it is not the case of the 737MAX8.

          In 2013 the 787 were grounded because two aircraft had the same problem and since they were identified the NTSB imposed the grounding

          • primary cause of grounding was that the fire happened on a US plane and on US territory.
            In that domain the US is pretty racist afaics.

          • The problem with having an established procedure for deciding whether or not to ground the fleet is that it gives a false impression of objectivity. One can objectively apply rules such as you describe, but the validity of the rules in the first place is subjective. If you apply the wrong rules to a situation, you’ll take the wrong actions.

            For example, the current situation. For as long as we have no official report as to what’s gone wrong with these 2 737MAXs, by these rules you keep flying 737MAXs. And if another goes down, or another 2, 3, 4, without official conclusions being drawn, you’d still keep flying them. Even if all 6 crashes had alarmingly similar chains of events, but no official conclusions drawn.

            That is not sustainable. If another MAX goes down in similar (but not officially concluded as such) circumstances, the public won’t be getting on board them anymore. You could insist all you like that they’re safe, but Joe Public won’t be buying it.

            Currently the FAA and EASA are, AFAIK, saying MAX is safe. And they’re the ones who also certified the design in the first place. If, as many suspect, MCAS really is a pile of garbage that should never have been allowed into the skies in the first place then this really challenges the very foundation of aviation safety; the regulators will have been found to have erred, and erred not on the side of passenger safety. Or worse, they may be found to have not considered it’s safety at all.

            If that’s so, the only conclusion that one could then draw is that the world’s aviation safety mechanism is fundamentally broken. This is very dangerous for the *entire* industry; it’s prosperity rests entirely in public confidence, and these 737MAX crashes may ultimately been seen as proof that that confidence is misplaced. If that feeling takes hold, there’d be no more aviation industry.

            Another really dubious example of regulation sticking by rules and not sitting back and looking at the bigger picture is the sorry tale of the EC225 Super Puma helicopter. These started dropping out of the sky, main rotors shearing off due to gearbox trouble as I recall. The regulatory response was, I think, to impose ever more stringent inspection regimes after each crash / fatalities, culminating in a thorough gearbox inspection per flight.

            Now I’m sorry, but there is no objective process of fault cause and rate analysis that can safely determine that one inspection per flight is adequate to catch such a dangerous problem that apparently took very little time to go from undetectable to fatal. Simple logic shows that any process to specify an inspection regime would inevitably have errors, meaning that sometimes the safe inspection interval is more often than once per flight.

            Which means that someone somewhere is guaranteed to not complete a flight. Which is what happened, tragically, with the final crash in Norway.

            My problem with this is that it looks like that at no point did anyone anywhere in the regulatory body take a step back from their normal process and ask, “is this sensible?”, or “Are my rules and procedures fit this this particular circumstance?”. Unless those questions are constantly asked, and answered, it’s nothing but regulate-by-numbers, do-it-how-the-book-says. I would argue that that’s not fit for purpose. Regulation is supposed to be a matter of keeping eyes peeled and paying attention.

            We might be seeing that with the 737MAX too. Personally speaking I think the airlines that are grounding their fleets are doing the right thing. I think they can see a future filled with court cases, and commercial pain now is far better than corporate extinction as the result of many law suits.

            I strongly suspect that the FAA and EASA are sitting behind their established and cherished procedures, and cannot see a future where those very procedures may be challenged and found wanting. If they’re lucky, it might be the NTSB that does this. This may also happen in the courts. And that might result in some personal penalties for some of their staff.

        • @Trooper: I agree there is “little” chance of terrorism. But this is different than it being ruled out entirely.

        • Don’t forget both Lion Air and Ethiopian 409 had requested to return to the airport. the 737 Max design causes it to stall when at a low speed in a tight turn. I figure both planes were turning to return to the airport.

    • Certainly the cause may not be the same as JT610. But the 737MAX has now established a fatality rate that is literally 1,000 times higher than other comparable narrow bodies (737NG, A320ceo, A320neo) since the MAX’s EIS. That is simple empirical fact, and the difference is (highly) statistically significant. I, for one, will book away from the MAX when feasible until they figure this out and/or establish a better safety record. But that’s a personal choice — your risk tolerance may differ.

    • No. I think you have to figure out what brought the plane down before you even think about grounding the jet. I think you want it grounded because you have an interest in seeing it grounded.

      And a terror incident is not dismissed due to the pilot saying “a technical issue”. a terror incident could lead the aircraft to have a technical issue, and they don’t know what caused the technical issue.

      • @Neutron73 I don’t understand this strategy. If you had a rocket design that blew up on every launch, you’d just keep stuffing astronauts into it and trying again until you pinpointed the flaw?

        • @Mike if said rocket was manufactured by Boeing you bet that Neutron73 would still be demanding launches to continue as planned.

      • @Neutron73 “And a terror incident is not dismissed due to the pilot saying “a technical issue”. a terror incident could lead the aircraft to have a technical issue” There is and should be no ambiguity with regards to Technical and Terrorism related because when a crew report technical, there is something wrong with the plane in its behaviour and/or control whereas Terrorism was not reported or used by the crew as there was no report or indication that any explosive device was on board. So a terrorism leading to a technical issue is unfounded and in accurate.

        • But if a software glitch is what brought the plane down could a terrorist cause this?

  2. Independent of the reason for this crash and the previous Max crash with Lion Air, this is by far the worst accident history so early after service entry of a new aircraft type or major derivative in later times. The accident rate is more in line with Comet, B727 or DC-10 half a century ago. For an airliner put into service the last 30-40 years this is unprecedented I think.

    • Exactly. We’ve now had two 100% fatal hull losses in less than 300 aircraft-years of operation. For context, the DC-10, which is widely regarded to have had serious safety flaws in the initial design, still made it 1,600 aircraft-years before its second 100% fatal hull loss.

  3. I agree with Trooper, all the more so the crashes took place in similar flight phases. I would recommend the following set of steps:

    1. ground the fleet (without speculating on any root cause), just because we do not know yet. Imagine the consequences of a third -800 MAX crash due to similar root cause before investigation is completed
    2. carry the full investigation
    3. lift the ban or mandate any action(s) required to restore full safety

    • @Shushu.. well said as that is the most logical approach, the same action that was taken when Air France Concorde crashed in Paris. This shows responsible action taken on the part of the operator and manufacturer rather than risking the lives of many more in the hope of passing the blame on someone else instead of a design or malfunction system or part. The crash of the Lion Air plane is a clear example of passing the bug instead of coming upfront that a supposedly safety feature incorporated in the design by Boeing is not performing as designed compounded by the fact that this was not passed on to operators in their operation and training manual. It is sad that neither Boeing nor the NTSB took any steps to redesign and prevent a similar tragedy happening instead of just handing out directives to operators to train pilots in how to deal with such a scenario.

      • CG:

        While mostly accurate, the NTSB investigates US accidents.

        They have no authority to issue anything on a foreign one. They can be invited (and often are) but they have no jurisdiction and cna’t issue a report if they do.

        They also can’t make FAA or Boeing do anything.

        After the Asiana 777 crash they recommended that Boeing change its Auto Throttle drop out via another mode change.

        Boeing gave them the finger.

        Not enough publicity to force it, as that is their only remedy if the FAA and in this case Boeing refuse.

  4. It is shocking. As noted, my alert was technical difficulties at least reported.

    No jump to judgement – but its damned bad for the people now dead in two with a MAX.

    In the meantime, still waiting what the blazes loss of control means for the 767 in Houston.

    The last lawn dart was the Trans Air and that was oxygen canisters gone off. 3 aircraft lost from the same mfg in this short a time. Yea that is beyond sobering.

    Two of the same exact new type, wow.

  5. Yes. I am relaxed to fly B737 our A320. Since NG arrived hull loss rates very similar and very low. Ethiopian is a great carrier I would fly them without hesitation.
    I am happy to wait for the formal reports. If it is another MCAS incident then Boeing will, I am sure pay real attention.

    • I would not be relaxed for all the stated reasons.

      Two is 4 months is shocking by any standards. Blending it into the norm of 30 years does not change that.

      If any good news they should recover the data boxes but the pictures show a lot of what looks like non government actors walking around the scene picking things up (nor a security perimeter with police or troops but tape, ergh)

      Yea, Boeing will pay attention, sadly because of stock price dive.

      Knowing nothing about EA, no idea how I would feel about flying them.

      What is sobering is that out of 3 crews that flew the MCAS Indonesian issue bird, not one pinpointed the right issue.

      Very limited sub set of pilots and granted its Indonesians, but 3 crews none came to high alert.

      We should have some word on Ethiopian and what they did about MCAS, what indicators they have on the aircraft (or not, love those options)

      Its going to be a week even if they get the black boxes before we know.

      • Are you sure those 3 Lion Air crews were all Indonesian? In my experience Lion Air has many foreign pilots.

  6. I will amend my comment.

    I think the MCAS should be disable immediately world wide until clarification is found.

    Otherwise grounding of the fleet until clarification found.

    • So far the pictures look like very concentrated, ergo, that is not good news on the controls end.

    • I don’t think it’s as simple as disabling MCAS. Boeing didn’t just add it for fun. Isn’t it necessary because the MAX is not stable at higher AOAs?

    • If MCAS is a requirement to ensure safe operation of the MAX, disabling the MCAS system would lead to worldwide grounding of the MAX.

    • Has anyone heard of any airline other than lion air having similar stabilizer problems?

      • If you don’t fly close to stall you don’t have an issue with stability.

        And it never was said that it went wildly out of control, just past the edge of not happy.

        So you put in a fix that takes (possibly) 2 birds out of the air.

        If you can’t turn it off or disable it then grounding until clarified.

        I have a few months before I have to fly and its on a 737 likely and possibly a MAX – so I will know.

        How do you account for a tail swap on a non all Max fleet if you want to avoid it?

        I think we are too allowing of this as an issue not settled at all.

        • Disable MCAS and don’t immediately ground the fleet. Could be something else mechanical. Although unlikely terrorism, it could be some sort of sabotage without a big explosion.

        • The crucial step, according to the Boeing bulletin, would be to reach across to the central console to a pair of switches (sometimes protected with covers that must be opened), and flip the switches off. Those switches disable electric control of the motor that moves the stabilizers up and down, preventing the anti-stall system from exerting control over their position. This is something that is in a checklist for pilots to follow under this situation. It hasn’t changed since earlier 737 models

    • If MCAS is disabled the MAX is extremely dangerous cause it’s nose pitched up.

      • And we know this how?

        And two aircraft losses in 4 month is not?

        • MCAS was put there for a reason. There might be a flaw in the MCAS system but you can’t just willy-nilly turn it off then and state that the reason MCAS was created in the first place wasn’t that important to begin with.

  7. I remember early 787 operations. Concerns were raised. FAA, NTSB and Boeing organized a press conference to jointly confirm their confidence in the 787.

    After the week-end the ANA battery fire took place and the Japanese authorities pulled their Type certificate. Then United did the same. Only then FAA did the same.

    The industrial / political pressure to make the 787 program a success had become so massive, benifits of the doubt were handed out.

    IMO it was so bad, nobody was/is interested in discussing afterwards. Government, industry, NTSB and FAA were all in. That didn’t help.

    How skilled & cold concrete objective & uncooperative are the Ethiopian authorities?

  8. It has not been proven that there was a maintenance issue with the Lion Air crash. All we know is the AoA instrument was causing problems on a previous flight and had to be replaced. For all we know the AoA instrument has a faulty design. So yes, be cautious.

    In aerospace engineering that are two sets of words, ‘fail-safe’ and ‘fail-hard’. For whatever reason, the 737 MAX has now failed hard twice in a very short period of time.

    Aerospace engineers know that airplanes must have back-ups and back-ups for back-ups to ensure an airplane fails safe.

    Both airplanes were new and the design new. Caution says that the 737 MAX must be grounded. Now

    • To add.

      A faulty AoA reading should not cause an airplane to crash. That’s fail-hard not fail-safe.

      Ground it.

  9. In additional news from Africa, this time West Africa, and Airbus A380 with 501 passengers flying from Abidjan, la Cote D’Ivoire (flight AF703), had an engine blow-out over Niger and had to return back to Abidjan. The engines on the A380 are GE/PW GP7200 engines. Plane returned safely to Abidjan

  10. If its another MCAS incident, Boeing won’t have any choice in the matter.It looks pretty ominous, if this isn’t enough for Scott to be remotely prepared to suggest grounding ,at what point would he be?For me it would be any hint of stabilizer problems even if caused by crew error.I’m not keen on boarding one of these things and the world has changed since the time of the DC10,the public will apply pressure.

  11. Not to say that this crash was MCAS related. But looking at an MCAS runaway recovery, sure you can turn off the tailplane motors, but at that point, isn’t the tailplane forcing the aircraft into constant decreased pitch? Is the elevator enough to overcome that? Does the high AOA of the tailplane cause turbulent flow over the elevator and start to stall the airflow so it doesn’t work as well? How to reset the tailplane, pull out the handles on the wheels and manually crank it back so the tailplane is lifting the nose again? How long does that take? Maybe the timeframe is not realistic to do that. Has Boeing run this scenario through the simulator to see if pilots can successfully reset the tailplane angle manually. Of course they can flip the switch motors, but is this enough to recover the aircraft once the tailplane is in the wrong position?

    • Entirely right.

      The definition of trim is that it is a minor force/surface that moderates a major force/surface. It is not clear to me why the pilots in the Lion Air crash could not use the elevator to correct the trim stabiliser. But then it may not have been the trim stabiliser that physically put the airplane into a steep dive. It may have been the elevator that physically put the airplane in a steep dive. Emphasis on the word ‘physically’. Commands were clearly being issued by the FCC even though the airplane was being flown ‘manually’.

      Something is very, very wrong with that airplane.

      • Phillip, you are flat wrong.

        Trim is nothing more than term for moving something.

        In this case MCAS moves the whole horizontal stabilizer.

        You can’t overcome that with the elevator. It vastly too small.

        • Hilarious. Your very funny. Bit like your very unique definition of a PIP.

          Do your research. Look up the word trim, specifically in relation to adjustment. Then look up the word force. Having done that combine the results. Then you will realise you are flat wrong.

          First year, first week, aeronautical engineering at university!

          For the record, with regard to the 737, if the trim stabiliser was the major force/surface in pitch then it would be an all moving stabiliser. The elevator would then be nothing more than a trim tab. Look that up too.

          Note, the Tristar had an all moving stabiliser. Very unusual. All moving stabilisers are the world of military combat airplanes. Look that up too.

          The Lion Air airplane was put into a steep dive by the elevator commanded by the FCC.

          • All-moving stabilizers for pitch trim with elevators for pitch control (from pilot or autopilot) is by far the most common configuration used on large commercial aircraft today, and for a long time now. The entire stabilizer is needed to provide the large forces necessary to trim the aircraft over a wide range of speeds and CG locations, thus freeing up the elevator to provide acceptable levels of pitch control over all those conditions. Bjorn recently covered these topics in his weekly Bjorn’s Corner articles. See
            https://leehamnews.com/2018/12/14/bjorns-corner-pitch-stability-part-4
            and
            https://leehamnews.com/2019/01/25/bjorns-corner-pitch-stability-part-6

            Also, the following site provides a discussion (with photos) of the 737 flight control system clearly showing the all-moving stabilizer for pitch trim and the elevators for pitch control. The 737 elevators also have balance tabs, which look like trim tabs, but have a different purpose.
            http://www.b737.org.uk/flightcontrols.htm
            On the 737, Mach trim, speed trim, and MCAS all work through an all-moving stabilizer, not any sort of elevator trim tab.

            I’m not saying that TransWorld is correct in his definition of the term “trim”, but if it was me, I would definitely make sure I was correct before calling someone else out on not doing their research. Even more so if I had repeatedly played the “education card”. With greater knowledge comes greater responsibility.

          • Björns analysis of the previous 737MAX8 crash is good and gives you the answer on 737 Trimmable Horizontal Stabilizer system.

          • @Philip, I think, no, I know you are wrong here.
            The B737 family have an all moving horizontal tail plane, this tailplane moves when trimming, the jack screw that moves when trimming is connected to the horizontal tail plane and is tilting it up and down.

          • For those who are arguing, I looked up the configuration on the FAA web site. This includes the maximum +-deflection of the stabiliser and the elevator. It’s the first thing I did after the Lion Air crash for I never tok the view that it was stabiliser trim runaway.You are all welcome to do the swme. The allowed deflections of the stabiliser are very small and therefore don’t constitute an all moving stabiliser in the fashion of the Tristar or modern military combat airplanes.

            That’s why it is referred to as a trim stabiliser as opposed to a stabilator, all moving tailplane and so on. The word ‘trim’ is the key word.

            By all means look up all moving stabilisers/tailplanes. Even Wiki have a good explanation.

            To Mike Bohnet, the purpose of a stabiliser/tailplane is to maintain a positive static margin, otherwise the pitching moment would be divergent. I had to correct Bjorn twice when he reported on the Lion Air crash. Scott wasn’t happy. I will still correct anybody who thinks otherwise. Static margin is critical to stability in pitch. By all means look it up. Again, even Wiki have a good explanation.

            So no. The word ‘trim’ is the key word. In the context of aeronautical engineering it means a moderator, an adjuster

  12. Nothing we say will convince the airlines to ground their planes. It will have to be up to the FAA to decide.

    The other reason might be that insurance companies might raise their rates through the roof and make it uneconomical to fly 737 MAX until a cause is determined.

    • Not true, Ethiopian can decide to ground its 737MAX, Ethiopian Authorities can (Brazil made Boeing cough up on the MCAS when not body else did)

      While it only applies locally, it would cascade quickly.

      European of Japanese authorities could do the same (or China) and the world would follow.

      Boeing and the FAA are the least likely and most likely to drag their feet.

  13. For there to be a grounding it is necessary to be sure

    1. that there is a second and same accident.

    2. If the causes are identified.

    For the moment it is not the case of the 737MAX8. In 2013 the 787 were grounded because two aircraft had the same problem and since they were identified the NTSB imposed the grounding

    • That is a bit of a duh as it was grossly obvious that two 787s had a problem and it should have been grounded when the first battery went.

      Unlike the 767 which is open, there is low or no track record with the 787 at the time and the MAX is also new with two major crashes.

      I admired that India stopped P&W aircraft from flying with that fault.

  14. Just a comment on your statement

    “It should be noted that Ethiopian is considered one of the best airlines in the world and the best in Africa. It’s got a good safety record and service is considered very good.”

    That’s a point of some discussion/debate on PPRuNe at present about just how wonderful the airline is. Some agree with you (usually a sensible thing to do!) but others are quoting four hull losses in recent memory which might encourage some qualification of “good safety record” next time you repeat that statement. 🙂

    • The 767-200ER in 96 was a hijack which had a forced landing- out of fuel by a beach in Comoros Is( video is well known)
      Back in 88 a 737-200 had multiple bird strike after takeoff with loss of power to 2 engines and then gear up landing outside airport ( No Hudson River to land on)
      The most recent one the 737-800 in 2010 off Beirut seems to be multiple crew related issues which were avoidable.
      It would still rate quite well compared to US or other western airlines.

    • Recent memory suggests that the 737 MAX is the exception to the rule for safety all round as been good in recent memory.

      Crash site shows a deep crater consistent with a high speed dive. Pity flight radar lost the track.

  15. Why would a hold fire warning experience by another airline on another continent on another type be relevant to the Ethiopian crash?

  16. Confirmation that the crash site is a crater.

    That follows with a full loss of control no matter what.

  17. I had seem some hints

    “Instead, it twice descended briefly during the first two and a half minutes after liftoff, according to tracking data provided by FlightRadar24.com. The plane’s “vertical speed was unstable after take off,” the company said in a tweet.”

    • But MCAS is not supposed to kick in before the flaps are fully retracted. Were they retracted that soon after take off?

  18. My theory – MCAS is not active when flaps are down (I expect they were still deployed) I suspect this is driven by a sensor. Sensor failed, MCAS kicked in, pilots countered and before they could react properly it was all over. RIP to all. If FAA grounded 787 over battery fires, this grounding MAX over 300 + fatalties is a no brainer. China has grounded (yes they have 20 frames only and this is partly political) But if there is a crash in USA and China has grounded, can the FAA survive the political firestorm?

    • More than 20, it’s 108. The largest operator China Southern alone has 25

      • And the FAA is not in a firestorm. They just shrug and go on.

        Can the FAA be split up is the better question.

  19. I am from Kenya and i lost 2 of my friends in the flight but what i have read so far is deeply worrying.
    There are too many similarities with the Lion Air Flight 610. I am a layman in terms of aircraft so take that into account.
    The Lion Air flight crashed 22 miles after take off and the pilot had just been granted clearance to return to the airport. The Ethiopian Air flight crashed 30 miles after take off and had also been granted clearance to return to the airport.
    I have read an article in the NYT dated 3rd February 2019 in which it stated that 737 Max had a unique design owing to engine size and there was a risk of stalling ‘…..at lower speeds during high-banked, tight-turn maneuvers…”
    and a software system known as MCAS was installed to prevent this. However both Boeing installed the system without telling pilots to avoid the need for expensive and time consuming pilot training. This was one of the reason the Lion Air Crash and Boeing had planned to introduce new software.

    What i see is two planes crashing at low speed while doing a low speed tight-turned maneuvers. I guess more airlines will start grounding the 737 Max.

    • Mike: I am very sorry about the loss of your friends.

      Background: The 737 MAX does not have an increased risk of stalling over any other aircraft

      It will pitch up as it stalls more than FAA liked (how much or had this is only the test data would tell).

      While is may seem subtle different it really is not.

      There are other safety system in place to alert pilot to an impending stall (and true of all commercial aircraft of that size)

      MCAS was put in to change that behavior in a stall if you got there.

      Sadly it was very badly done in its roll out and at least 150 some are dead in one crash and unknown but suspicious on the EA crash.

  20. I surely hope all those in the management chain who had to decide or be aware of the single sensor error ability to temporairly override pilot input and who decided/approved NOT putting any info in the required documentation – plus those who may have questioned that have by now sat down and documented or noted such decisions, including email, conversations, etc.

    Ditto for Government types. Seems to me a basic safety issue of a single point error/failure has been verboten for decades. So WTF happened ?

  21. I don’t think there is much to argue here. Airplanes don’t fall out of the sky in this manner. Bombs do but not airplanes. The emphasis is on the word ‘fall’.

    The Lion Air 737 MAX dived into the sea at significant speed. The Ethiopian 737 MAX produced a deep crater and no significant part of the airplane remained intact. The behaviour of a bomb. So the Ethiopian 737 MAX dived into the ground at great speed.

    So something or someone was flying both airplanes. If it is not the pilots then the only other option is the airplane. I think we can agree it’s not the pilots. So it’s the airplane.

    The likely cause is the FCC. There are other options. Elevator runaway and jam is one. It’s not likely to be trim stabiliser runaway and jam, especially if the elevator is still available to the pilots.

    Many quoted the Air France 447 crash when the Lion Air crash occurred. That did fall out of the sky. The comparison is really with the Germanwings 9525 crash, when the pilot flew the airplane into the ground!

    But with both the 737 MAX crashes the pilots were not to blame

  22. I think we are getting too hung up on the specific reasoning for the crashes. This aircraft have two unexplained but very similar crash profiles. Surely this needs to be addressed. My concern is that Boeing have introduced a naturally unstable aircraft as a result of pulling the engines further forward and impacting on the centre of gravity in relation to the centre of lift. This is compounded by not having full FBW.

    My view is that Boeing have opted for an inherently marginal design and needed full FBW to ensure that this is made safe. I also think that all parties were aware of the design limitations or characteristics of the aircraft and are culpable for allowing a substandard control system to be put in place. There is no place for an ostensibly new aircraft to not have full FBW in 2019, the penny pinching grandfathering route is now killing people by the hundred.

    • I sort of agree. Others hsve commented tha the 737 NG was/is sensitive to pitching moment. And yes, it appears moving the new engine even further forward and up has increased the sensitivity.

      But regulations make clear that stability should be such that an airplane can fly through air with extreme vertical currents or gusts without stalling..

      On that basis, I always assumed that MCAS was introduced to keep pilot induced AoA down just in case the airplane did fly through such a current or gust causing a stall. I note, in both crashes, it was a nice calm, clear day with a clear horizon.

      • Yes the pitching, yawing moment associated with having big lumps of engine way forward of the wing. I am sure that the controls can be developed to allow for this characteristic and nullify or control it effectively. The issues I have are threefold:

        1 Why was the aircraft not given full FBW at inception when this must have been a desirable design feature and was fully possible. Am I wrong or is this the first large commercial aircraft in something like 25 years not to be so equipped. The FBW envelope protection could have been far more rigorous than the Bandaid MCAS approach adopted. Grandfathering needs to be explored thoroughly.

        2 Why was this not taken more seriously when the Lionair flight crashed. I think we all know/guess/infer that the pilots were made scapegoats for a glaring design issue that time on the basis that they OEM has more to lose than the pilots family (they have already lost!). A bit like AF447 to be fair.

        3 Who is in charge of testing and certification and safety? As I understand it nowadays the OEM effectively tells the FAA that their aircraft is safe and the FAA looks them sternly in the eye for a couple of seconds and drawls ‘Okay if that’s what you say Bud’. I bet that Boeing will be quietly but aggressively and frantically lobbying for the MAX 8 to continue flying in spite of what has happened.

        • Yep, we are close.

          The AF447 crash is interesting. The airplane acted impeccably in my mind. Specifically:

          When the FC detected erroneous air speed data, it switched to second alternate mode. This means the pilots WERE flying the airplane, but the FCC still provided advisories.

          For reasons we will never know the senior first officer pulled back the stick. The FCC correctly issued a stall warning.

          But the senior first officer continued to pull back the stick, ignoring the FCC. The airplane went into a belly stall at about 35,000 ft, the most benign form of stall. Belly stalls are easy to reverse.

          But the senior first officer still continued to pull back the stick. The airplane maintained a belly stall, but at one point the nose was up 35 degrees and more.

          The captain was on his break. By the time he got to the cockpit it was too late. The captain did order stick forward, but there wasn’t enough altitude. It did a belly flop into the sea.

          The FCC did it’s best to advise the pilots. From the position of stability the airplane was entirely benign giving the senior first officer over 2 minutes to decide to push the stick forward. Why he didn’t we will never know.

          Note, it was the junior first officer who summoned the captain to the cockpit, but unfortunately he took too long to get there. The captain didn’t notice because the stall was benign and he knew they were flying through turbulence. So all hell was breaking loose in the cockpit but the captain was happily resting. If the junior first officer had summoned the captain 20 seconds earlier, the outcome would have been different.

          So to answer your question of FBW. Yes, I agree. But Airbus are the experts. They have normal law, alternate laws and direct law. With regard to AF447, the laws were right. The senior first officer froze and the junior first officer didn’t act.

          With regard to the 737 MAX, it is laggy band engineering. Specifically:

          Boeing did not simulate how the FCC would react with erroneous air data readings. Pilot training simulators were not developed. And as we know there wasn’t documentation. So testing and training entirely suspect.

          Equally, Boeing don’t group their flight control laws like Airbus. So there isn’t a clear distinction with regard to whether an algorithm is active and when not. With regard to the Lion Air crash, I still think the FCC algorithms were still active even though the pilots were of the view they were flying manually

          But it’s one refresh too far. Clearly there is reduced stability because of the engine mountings, and yes, they are using bandaids to keep it going. Time to stop.

          Boeing need a new NSA. We all know it. They need to take the time to build it. Eight years. Then they can get the FCC right.

          • Philip: There is no such thing as a belly stall.

            And I will content that your so called Airbus experts drop the pilots into a pickle when it suddenly says, you have it.

            If you are going to go automation (which FBW allows) then in this case the system should put the aircraft in the right mode (5 deg nose up and 85% throttle) and alert the pilots its done so because of the speeds issue.

            The so called experts ignored the real experts that tell you bells, whistle and alerts are ignored.

            That is as dumb as Boeing with their auto throttle drop out as a result of another mode.

            What they are is mfg with great ideas that are not always such good ideas.

          • TransWorld, get over yourself.

            There are three kinds of stall. A flat stall or belly stall, a spiral stall, or a spinning stall. The last is the great white shark. If you meet it pray!

            Serioulsy, get over yourself

          • Sorry, I try to be nice.

            But TransWorld if you don’t know a flat (belly) stall without spin then you don’t know anything.

            Flat stalls with spin are the most dangerous. It was made famous by the Top Gun movie. It’s the great white shark. Pray. Or have a spin parachute. Then you don’t have to pray.

            Please, you are embarrassinh!

  23. 6 min after take-off you are no where near cruising altitude and to get in trouble that soon after take-off suggest that the issue started even before take-off.
    As reported, the plane had just completed 2 flights from Ethiopia to South Africa and back with zero incident reported.
    In contrast with Lion air where it was known that the planed had issues.
    To go from zero incident to a catastrophic incident just 3 hours after the aircraft was on ground could suggest that something happened to the aircraft while it was on the ground hence the issue manifested just few min into the flight.
    If the plane crashed 6min after take-off, it means the issue must have started maybe 3to4 min after take-off.
    So it’s highly possible that the aircraft took-off with the issue unbeknown to the pilots.
    I am inclined to believe that this crash has similar causes to what happened to the 737 in Greece where a switch was left to manual after maintenance, It could be that something was inadvertently done to the plane while being prepared for the new trip.
    The black boxes will give definitive answers

  24. both are brand new planes, both had technical issues and both end in a loss.

    I won’t set a foot in a Max these days, until it’s clear what happend.

  25. IANAP but I did fly both Lion Air out of Jakarta and Ethiopian Airlines out of Addis Ababa last year (albeit fortunately on earlier 737s than the Max 8)

    Based on the renewed technical discussions, what hits me are Boeing’s potential parallels with VWs dieselgate scandal:

    A global vehicle manufacturer chasing sales based on exceptional ‘green’ performance efficiencies uses unpublicised coded control mechanisms to hide the inherent flaws of its raw engineering.

    The difference is that I’m still happy to strap myself into a VW.

    • Me too, we have the predecease to the DG scandalize and it runs great.

  26. Let’s wait for the facts.

    If it turns out that MCAS or some other flaw related only to the MAX variant is a factor, I would say there would be a strong possibility that BA would ditch the NMA project to concentrate on a NSA.

    Let’s hope for clear, and definitive answers for the relatives of those lost as soon as possible.

    • No, act now, be sorry latter. Its a fatal crash with no obvious external aspect and they should grounded (and are)

      It may be another flaw, but it needs to be seen and then determined what the best actions are.

      I think its wrong to bring a long term strategy into this as its easily fixed if it is MCAS and I doubt an unknown is not also easily fixed. .

      • Sorry, I meant for us the spectators, and speculators to wait for the facts.

        I would expect the relevant authorities to be looking in detail at the evidence, and if there’s any question of the safety of the MAX at all, to ground them immediately.

        I don’t think the general public have enough facts to state that the two crashes are similar enough to warrant grounding the entire MAX fleet worldwide.

        IMHO Ethiopian have done the right thing, and grounded their aircraft, similarly, the Indonesian authorities, China, Grand Cayman Airways.

        Answers need to be forthcoming in very short order !

        As to the long term strategy, quite possibly not the time, and place I grant you, just an observation.

  27. From reading articles about the first crash, it seems the computer decided the nose was too high and pushed the nose down. The pilots fought with the computer to try to bring the nose up. The pilots could have flipped 2 switches and regained manual control had they followed procedure. Apparently it did not matter which particular system was causing the computer to push down the nose, the solution was to switch off the electricity to regain manual control.

    Its too terrible what happened but I think the chain of events that caused the plane to crash could have stopped if the pilots followed procedure.

    The second crash is eerily similar. Lets wait and see.

  28. I’ve heard that it was a software glitch that brought the planes down. I am not a plane or computer guy but wonder if a terrorist could cause the glitch either while doing maintenance or remotely.

    • Yes a terrorist could have caused this if they were working for the Boeing design team that made a plane with a single point of failure. They would have to have other terrorists in the management team that approved this design and then other friends in the FAA that certified this plane air worthy and did not require extra type specific training. So I guess the terrorists have won?

      No software fix is going to make up for the bad design and I don’t think it will ever be certified to fly again.

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