– All Boeing Max jets have been grounded worldwide as the investigations continue.
– It remains unclear how much a new flight control system on the Max jets, known as MCAS, and Boeing’s training of pilots on it, is to blame for the disasters versus pilot error.
The Ethiopian government briefed journalists Thursday on the initial findings of its investigation into the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.
The Ministry of Transport said the airline would also release a statement shortly after the preliminary report was discussed by government officials. It was not immediately clear when the Ethiopian government would make the report available publicly.
The Boeing 737 Max 8 jet crashed just after take-off from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on March 10, killing all 157 passengers and crew on board.
Similarities between the disaster and the crash of a Lion Air 737 Max 8 in October last year have brought huge pressure on Boeing.
Both crashes have been linked to a new flight control system that the American aviation giant installed on the Max series of jets, known as MCAS. What has remained unclear is the extent to which a malfunctioning MCAS system caused the crashes, versus pilot error.
The Ministry of Transport said on Thursday that its report had determined the Flight 302 crew had followed safety procedures set forth by Boeing in their operation of the 737 Max 8.
CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave reported on Wednesday that investigators increasingly believe that after take-off, something happened to one of the external sensors linked to the MCAS system on the Ethiopian jet and it began to send erroneous information, triggering the system. This is similar to what data show happened on the Lion Air flight.
The similarities between the two crashes have prompted governments and airlines worldwide to ground all of their Max jets — the newest passenger aircraft made by Boeing. Hundreds of the planes remain on order from airlines around the world, so there are huge implications for both air passengers, and a major U.S. employer from a business standpoint.
Ethiopia says crew was
The Ministry of Transportation said the Ethiopian Airlines crew on the doomed flight followed all of the rules and regulations outlined by Boeing but they still were unable to regain control of the jet.
Dagmawit Moges, Ethiopia’s Minister of Transport, said the onus was on Boeing to investigate the automated flight control system linked to the crash, but she did not specifically name the MCAS system.
She said the full report on the crash would be issued by the government within one year.
CBS News’ Van Cleave noted on Wednesday that the Ethiopian government and Ethiopian Airlines were widely expected to try and put the lion’s share of the blame for the crash on the plane’s manufacturer, while Boeing will have a clear interest in showing any fault the flight crew might have had.
The truth, said Van Cleave, will likely end up being somewhere in the middle, but it remains undeniable that had Boeing not deployed MCAS with clear and fundamental flaws, the Ethiopian pilots would not have found themselves in a situation where they were fighting against it to try and control their aircraft.
The tragedy, like most transportation accidents, was likely to end up being blamed on a series of contributing factors, but Van Cleave said it would be difficult to place the blame entirely on the pilots, regardless of how they handled the response to the emergency.
FAA also under scrutiny
Boeing announced a software fix last month for the MCAS anti-stall system, intended to make it less aggressive and easier to control, but the 72 Boeing Max’s in use in the U.S. were to remain grounded until the FAA approves Boeing’s updates, which could take months.
“There is an extreme amount of pressure for Boeing to find a fix and for the FAA to validate the Boeing finding,” former NTSB investigator Jeff Guzzetti has told CBS News. “Boeing is taking a black eye — they’re already taking a black eye. And so is the FAA quite frankly.
“I think much of this is not deserved and will be short lived,” Guzzetti added, “but it’s certainly creating fear and the lack of confidence in Boeing customers and those that trust the FAA.”
Attorney Steven Marks filed the first lawsuit against Boeing connected to the Max 8 crash in Ethiopia. He believes the company’s rush to catch up to rival Airbus in 2015 led to design mistakes that turned deadly.
“It’s hard to have a great deal of confidence when the regulatory agency allowed this product and Boeing participated and having this product going to market without a complete review,” Marks said.
CBS News’ Van Cleave reported last month that with the technology on modern passenger jets advancing so fast and resources being so tight, the FAA — long the gold standard in airline safety regulation — has worked increasingly closely with manufacturers.
Federal authorities have told employees at Boeing and the FAA to retain documents relating to the plane’s approval process, which by design relies heavily on manufacturers like Boeing to self-police.
Scott Brenner, a former associate administrator at the FAA, told CBS News last month that the FAA does not have the resources to certify aircraft without the help of the manufacturer.
“On some level, the FAA is taking Boeing’s word for a lot of this,” Van Cleave pointed out.
“They are taking Boeing’s word, but they – Boeing is also presenting data to prove their word,” Brenner said. As far back as 1993, the government accountability office warned “FAA’s certification staff were falling far behind industry in technical competency” in part because of delegating to manufacturers.
What happened on Flight 302
The Ethiopian Airlines pilots did initially follow Boeing and the FAA’s suggested Emergency Procedures and turned off an electronic system to shut down the MCAS system soon after take-off. MCAS was designed to push the nose of a plane down if it is climbing too steeply, which can cause a stall.
But Van Cleave’s sources said the pilots struggled to regain control of the plane even after turning the system off.
Data from the plane’s black boxes indicate the pilots then deviated from the emergency procedures by turning back on the electronic system, which meant the MCAS kicked back into action. Over the following minutes, the MCAS system is believed to have reactivated as many as four times, pushing the nose of the plane downward each time. Eventually it went into a dive and slammed into the ocean.
It has not been clear why the pilots decided to turn a malfunctioning system back on. Van Cleave’s sources have said they simply don’t have a clear sense of what actions the pilots took or didn’t take in the cockpit.
The fact MCAS was turned off and the plane was not brought under control does raise questions about the emergency procedures provided by Boeing and the FAA in the wake of the Lion Air Crash.
Van Cleave’s sources have said it is unlikely that the MCAS system would have somehow turned itself back on.
By CBS News