The anti-stall system at the centre of investigations into two fatal crashes involving Boeing 737 MAX aircraft was likely activated before Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 came down shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa earlier this month, the airline’s chief executive has said.
Tewolde GebreMariam told the Wall Street Journal the aircraft’s manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system (MCAS), which is designed to automatically correct the angle at which the aircraft is flying if it becomes too steep, was “to the best of our [Ethiopian’s] knowledge” active when flight 302 crashed.
Investigations into the fate of Lion Air flight 610, which crashed into the Java Sea last October shortly after taking off from Jakarta, suggest the aircraft’s MCAS was also in play, with a combination of an “erroneous” sensor input and the MCAS causing the plane to nose-dive.
Transcripts of the cockpit voice recorder from the Lion Air aircraft last week revealed the pilots searched through the aircraft’s manual to find a solution. All 189 people onboard were killed, as were all 157 people on board the Ethiopian flight.
GebreMariam’s comments come after Ethiopia’s transport minister, Dagmawit Moges, said flight data from the black box onboard flight 302 showed the aircraft’s altitude fluctuated sharply shortly after take off, similar to the Lion Air flight.
Chief executive GebreMariam has since issued a statement in which he said he didn’t want to speculate further as to the cause of the crash, but added “many questions" about the 737 MAX remained and that Ethiopian would cooperate fully with crash investigators. He also reiterated the airline’s belief and confidence in manufacturer Boeing.
Boeing is holding briefings this week on its forthcoming software and training updates for the 737 MAX, the software patch understood to focus primarily on deployment of the MCAS giving pilots manual control for the system.
Last week, Garuda Indonesia cancelled its order for 50 of Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft, while Samoa Airways is understood to have followed suit.
Boeing grounded the 737 MAX “out of an abundance of caution” after the aircraft was banned from operating throughout much of the world.