Ethiopian 737 MAX Pilots Unable Control Aircraft Despite Correct Procedures

The preliminary report into the Ethiopian 737 Max 8 crash has revealed that the pilots attempted to use Boeing’s new instructions to save the doomed aircraft.

Ethiopian Airlines has said that their pilots followed the Boeing/FAA instructions to the letter but were unsuccessful in pulling the aircraft out of repeated nosedives, that ultimately ended in disaster.

Boeing lawsuit
An Ethiopian Boeing 737 MAX crashed last month. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia

What are the details?

Whilst the investigation is still ongoing into Ethiopian flight ET302, preliminary findings have started to be released to the public.

The flight, bound for Nairobi from Addis Ababa crashed 11 minutes into the flight. While we don’t yet know the exact cause of the crash, the profile is very similar to another crash six months earlier in Indonesia. The Lion Air disaster was caused by an overcompensating autopilot, the existence of which was not disclosed to the pilots. It was not even mentioned in the handbook for the aircraft.

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Since that initial Lion Air crash, the FAA and Boeing have released instructions on how to deactivate this component of the autopilot and recover control of the aircraft. Unfortunately, according to this recent report, the instructions did not seem to work onboard the Ethiopian 737 Max 8.

Ethiopian Airlines aircraft fleet
Concerns over the safety of the Boeing 737 has grounded the aircraft worldwide. Photo: Ethiopian Airlines.

What new information has been released?

The preliminary report released by the Ethiopian transport ministry has made the following key findings:

  • The aircraft was perfectly maintained and had the correct up-to-date airworthiness certificate.
  • The flight crew had the required training and experience to fly the aircraft.
  • The planes taxi and take off was not unusual.
  • However, the plane experienced ‘uncommanded nose-down conditions’ after takeoff.
  • The crew attempted to use procedures provided by the manufacturer (Boeing) multiple times but was not able to correct the aircraft.

The report then concluded that the manufacturer should review the control mechanism of the aircraft. It also suggests that the FAA do a full review of the aircraft after fixes to ensure that the plane is safe to fly on.

Ethiopian Airlines welcomed the initial findings, that it proves that their crew followed all instructions and were not to blame for the crash.

“Despite their hard work and full compliance with the emergency procedures, it was very unfortunate that they could not recover the [aircraft] from the persistence of nose-diving, As the investigation continues with more detailed analysis, as usual, we will continue with our full co-operation with the investigation team.”

What do you think of this news? Let us know in the comments. 

3 comments
  1. All new airliners should be equipped with the best safety systems available

    All aircraft pilots should go through the best training possible

  2. Just one thing I’m wondering….
    So the aircraft gets an information (wrong in that case) about the angle of attack.
    The trim is moved by the computer to point the nose down…
    Now, the recommended procedure is to disconnect the trim, and to control the aircraft on your own.
    Won’t the trim still point down once disconnected? If so, the pilots controls don’t have a large enough surface to counteract the trim right?
    Or is the trim going back to a neutral position ?

    1. 1. Since the transcript was made available, we know that the airline’s claims were far from true.
      2. The article above was working from mistaken assumptions.
      3. Boeing’s procedure for emergency trim recovery, in place for decades, moves the trim manually and works just fine, but it does require practiced pilots to employ it. Pilots can’t just attempt control in their own way, leave the throttles open and overspeed the airplane, and then expect the aircraft to still be responsive or controllable.
      4. However, the software/sensor fix will ensure that pilots with little experience and training will be less likely to get themselves into trouble with any failures. This is all part of our increasing dependency on automation and less and less on pilot skill.

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