On Thursday, Ethiopian Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges revealed findings from the preliminary report regarding the deadly crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 last month. The aircraft was the second deadly crash involving a Boeing 737 MAX 8 in five months.

Ethiopian Airlines Crash Probe

Read the Preliminary Report from the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Ministry of Transport, Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau.

“Given the information made available since the second crash of the aircraft, the findings are not surprising,” said Beasley Allen’s Mike Andrews who focuses his practice on aviation litigation and is currently leading the firm’s efforts to also investigate the two crashes. “The similarities of the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the Lion Air crash last October are more than just striking. They both point to the malfunctioning Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) or the automated flight control system. Boeing knew the new system could cause problems and failed to provide adequate information about or training on handling the new system to pilots. The company could have prevented the 346 deaths that occurred as a result of the two crashes.”

Initial findings include:

  • No evidence of foreign object damage, which conflicts with reports that a foreign object damaged the angle of attack sensor and engaged the MCAS anti-stall system.
  • No indication of a “structural design problem.”
  • The MCAS flight control system was malfunctioning just before the aircraft crashed. Similar to the pattern experienced by the aircraft involved in the Lion Air Flight 610 crash last October, the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft also experienced repetitive uncommanded aircraft nose-down events.

Investigators also discovered that Ethiopian Airline pilots initially followed Boeing’s protocol for handling the MCAS during an uncommanded aircraft nose-down scenario. The pilots turned off the flight control system that was automatically forcing the plane’s nose down shortly after takeoff. The crew couldn’t get the aircraft to climb so they were forced to turn the system back on and to rely on other steps but were unable to regain control of the plane before it crashed.

Concerns over the aircraft’s safety, specifically the malfunctioning MCAS automated flight control system, led to the worldwide grounding of the planes until Boeing can finalize a software fix. A fix was promised by the end of last month but earlier this week Boeing officials reported the fix would take longer to finalize than it expected.

Scrutiny of the MCAS has also raised questions about the process used by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in approving the system. Daniel Elwell, the FAA’s Acting Administrator, defended the process during a Congressional hearing last week.

For more information about aviation litigation, Mike Andrews has written a book for lawyers in which he discusses the complexities of aviation crash investigation and litigation. Order or download a free copy.

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