The family of Dr. Rio Nanda Pratama filed suit earlier this month against U.S.-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing. Pratama was on Lion Air Flight 610 heading home from a medical conference when the flight crashed shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia, last month. It is the first of likely many other lawsuits to follow. The Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet had been in service for only two months and flown only 800 hours at the time of the crash. The Indonesian Transportation Safety Committee has been investigating the crash and its initial findings have raised more questions than provided answers to Pratama’s family and other families of the crash victims.
Although the cause of the crash has yet to be confirmed, it appears a malfunctioning airspeed sensor, called an Angle of Attack (AOA) sensor, could have started a domino effect of other problems that ended in disaster. The AOA sensor tells the flight crew the plane’s angle or degree of ascent or descent. It sends the information to the airplane’s computer, which combines the information with other data to determine if an aircraft might be in danger of stalling because it is pointed too high.
During Flight 610, the malfunctioning AOA sensor sent false information to the computer, indicating the plane was in danger of stalling.
In the newest iteration of the 737, Boeing incorporated a new automated anti-stall system to compensate for the aircraft’s unique handling characteristics. The system is triggered when the computer determines the plane may be in danger of stalling. It can take over under certain conditions even when pilots are flying the aircraft in the manual operational mode. However, three pilots’ unions and Lion Air confirmed they did not know the system existed until after the Lion Air crash, which prompted Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to warn pilots of the danger. The pilots have made it clear that they cannot safely operate an aircraft without full knowledge of all the systems on board. They have said that by allegedly withholding such information, Boeing violated the aviation industry’s “safety culture.”
Boeing, however, wasn’t alone in allegedly overexposing the passengers and crew members to risk.
During at least three of the aircraft’s previous flights, it experienced airspeed and altitude problems like the problems it faced during the doomed flight. On two separate occasions, Lion Air maintenance crews attempted to address the problems, changing the AOA sensors and dealing with problematic pitot tubes. Neither of the procedures seemed to alleviate the problems. Still, the airline declared the plane fit to fly each time until the aircraft’s tragic end.
As investigators continue examining the myriad factors that appear to have contributed to the deadly flight, the incident illustrates the complexities of the industry and the necessity of all responsible parties working together to protect consumers.