A former engineer for Ethiopian Airlines has accused the carrier of accessing and potentially tampering with maintenance records for the 737 MAX which crashed earlier this year. Yonas Yeshanew claims that timestamps do not add up, and says that there is a fundamental problem at the African carrier, with overworked employees, unqualified staff and an ingrained culture of corner-cutting.
Maintenance records accessed
A former chief engineer for Ethiopian Airlines has come forward with accusations that the carrier went into the maintenance records of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft after the deadly crash earlier this year. Yonas Yeshanew has filed a whistleblower complaint with regulators, claiming the infiltration of the documents was just part of a pattern of corruption at the airline.
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Aviation regulators stipulate that, in the event of a rash, all maintenance records, logbooks and task cards are sealed off immediately. Any attempt to access or manipulate them is a serious violation, equal in measure to stomping around at a crime scene.
Yeshanew resigned from the airline earlier this year and is currently seeking asylum in the US. Although he says that it’s unclear how or even if the records were altered, it was regular practice at the airline to sign off on shoddy repairs, to fabricate documents and even to beat workers who stepped out of line.
“Ethiopian Airlines is pursuing the vision of expansion, growth and profitability by compromising safety,” Yeshanew stated in his report. The report was shared with the press after he had sent it to the FAA and other international air safety agencies.
Look at the human factors
Yeshanew was not on his own in his allegations of malpractice at Ethiopian Airlines. Three other former employees came forward in support of his claims. While he doesn’t specifically suggest that records were tampered with, he urges regulators to look beyond the MCAS and at the human factors that may also have been involved in the crash.
He claims that the 737 MAX that crashed had already been reported to have some issues prior to the accident. He says that, although he can’t conclusively say that records were changed, that the final entry in the maintenance book of the aircraft was time-stamped for the day after the crash – March 11th.
However, Ethiopian Airlines paints a picture of a disgruntled employee out for revenge. In an email seen by the Daily Mail, the carrier states,
“He is a disgruntled ex-employee who fabricated a false story about Ethiopian Airlines, partly to revenge for his demotion while working in Ethiopian, and partly to probably develop a case to secure asylum in the USA. We would like to confirm once more that all his allegations are false and baseless.”
It vehemently denies any access of or tampering with the documents relating to the crashed jet, and claim that as soon as the incident occurred, all records were sealed, stored in a secure place and handed over to Ethiopia’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau.
Growing too fast
At the heart of Yeshanew’s gripes is a sense that he feels Ethiopian is growing too fast, and that it is not prepared to handle being the major player it is becoming. Transporting around 11m passengers a year, four times as many as it was a decade ago, he says the airline is cutting corners to keep things moving.
Yeshanew says that maintenance crew are overworked, and that pilots are flying with too little training and not enough rest breaks. Mechanics, he says, are under pressure to get aircraft cleared for takeoff, all too often taking short cuts in order to meet increasingly tight deadlines.
He also produced a three year old FAA audit that highlighted a raft of other problems at the airline. In it, the inspectors found that almost all of the 82 mechanics working for the airline lacked the minimum qualifications to do the job.
The 39 year old Yeshanew has fled to the US with his wife and children, where he is seeking asylum. The investigation into the 737 MAX continues.