Ethiopian Airlines Crash a Visual Guide To What We Know So Far
March 26th 2019: Boeing says it has a software fix ready for its 737 Max airplanes that will be unveiled to airline officials, pilots and aviation authorities from around the world Wednesday, as the aircraft manufacturer works to rebuild trust among its customers and the flying public following two fatal crashes of the planes in recent months.
Meanwhile, those crashes and the relationship between Boeing and the federal agency charged with regulating it will be discussed at a U.S. Senate aviation subcommittee hearing on Wednesday. Scheduled to testify are the heads of the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, along with the Transportation Department's inspector general, who is investigating how the FAA went about certifying the 737 Max as airworthy, and whether regulators relied too heavily on Boeing's own safety assessments in their review.
An Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed near Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board and triggering a global debate. Updates on the illfated flight are as under:
What do we know so far about the flight?
The black box recorder has been recovered from the wreckage, which should reveal technical flight data as well as the cockpit voice recordings. Until that evidence is analysed and released, the only available data has come from tracking websites such as Flightradar24.
Flight ET302 took off from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, at 8.38am local time (5.38am GMT) and crashed approximately six minutes later, on its way to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in rural land near the town of Bishoftu.
According to the airline, the captain of the plane had reported difficulties and requested permission to turn back.
Flight radar data shows that the aircraft was climbing erratically, with an unstable vertical airspeed.
Conflicting witness reports from locals on the ground have been given to TV crews. One man told the BBC that the plane had dropped straight from the sky, with no visible flames before impact; another told CNN that he had seen smoke coming from the back of the aircraft before it crashed.
How does the crash compare to what we know about Lion AirFlight 610?
The disaster was the second involving a Boeing 737 Max 8 in the past four months. In October, a Lion Air plane crashed into the sea off the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, killing all 189 people onboard.
The undisputed similarity is that both planes that were the same model ofBoeing 737: a new iteration, the Max 8, that first flew in 2017 and had only been in service a matter of months for Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines; and in both cases, the pilots reported difficulties immediately after takeoff.
'Why did it fly?' Grief mixes with anger over crashed Lion Air flight
While the investigation is still continuing into the Lion Air crash, the plane showed sharp changes of altitude, which suggested the pilots may have been effectively trying to wrestle against in-flight control systems designed to prevent a stall.
However, the publicity around that crash and immediate warnings to airlines and pilots from Boeing and aviation regulators, highlighting the software changes in the 737 Max autopilot and reminding pilots of operational procedures, would appear to make it unlikely that crew would be unaware if the same issue arose.
How important is the 737 Max plane to Boeing?
The plane has become the fastest selling in history: more than 5,000 orders placed, and more than 350 in service. At its officially listed price ($121m per plane), that amounts to more than $600bn worth of planes sold already and being manufactured, though most airlines will have bought them at a substantial discount.
What do we know of the victims?
The crash killed 157 people from 35 different countries, including eight crew members. The victims included 32 Kenyan citizens, 18 from Canada, nine from Ethiopia, eight from Italy, China and the US, and seven from the UK and France.
Among them were aid workers, doctors and delegates heading to a UN environment assembly in Nairobi.
How does Ethiopian Airlines' safety record stack up?
Ethiopian has been regarded as a standard bearer among African airlines, on a continent where aviation safety has lagged behind the rest of the world. Despite Ethiopian's mostly good record, a notable exemption was a crash in 2010 off Lebanon that killed 90 people and was ascribed to pilot error by investigators, although the airline disputed the findings.
But it has not had great fortune as an early adopter of Boeing planes: an electrical fault saw a 787 Dreamliner catch fire at Heathrow in 2013.
What do other carriers and regulators say?
Regulators in the UK and Australia have suspended the operation of all 737 Max models in their airspace, while Singapore and Malaysia have also stopped the planes from flying into and out of their airports. China and Indonesia have grounded all their 737 Max planes, as have Oman and South Korea. Some airlines have also independently grounded their 737 Max planes.
Ethiopian Airlines' deadliest crash presents a difficult hurdle for its global ambitions
For Ethiopian Airlines, Mar. 10, 2019, will forever be a day to remember.
After its Nairobi-bound flight ET 302 took off from the capital Addis Ababa at 8.38am, the pilot reported problems and was cleared to return to Bole international airport. But the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft lost contact and plunged into a field in Bishoftu town minutes afterward, killing 157 people from three dozen nations. The crash was the deadliest in the state carrier's history since it began operating in 1946.
For Africa's largest airline, the crash has brought undue attention to its regional and global operations, its future aspirations, the impending plans to open itself up for private investment, as well as its decades-long relationship with the US aircraft manufacturer Boeing. The accident also posits a new and modern challenge for Ethiopian, which in its 70-year history has survived through political turbulence, a transition from a socialist to a market-based economic system, and intense global aviation competition impelled by technological advances and mergers.
This is a setback and you cannot deny it, you cannot sugarcoat it,” argues aviation industry analyst Henry Harteveldt. Besides the “emotional impact” on the management and employees, what remains to be seen, he says, is how long this tragedy and the ongoing investigation into what actually happened could slow down Ethiopian Airlines' (ET) short-term ambitions—whether by a year, two or even more.
Over the past decades, Ethiopian has transformed from a domestic airline into a global carrier servicing 119 international destinations on five continents. With an operating fleet of 111, the company carries almost 11 million passengers annually and recorded $3.3 billion in revenues in the 2017/18 fiscal year.
It's also implementing a strategic plan dubbed Vision 2025 aimed at positioning itself as Africa's airline of choice. Its hub in Addis, which recently tripled in size, has already overtaken Dubai as the 'worlds gateway into Africa.
As more African nations move to liberalize air travel, Ethiopian hashelped launch or revive their defunct sovereign airlines like Zambia's or set up crucial transit and cargo hubs like in Togo and Malawi. To boost its technical and management services, last year Ethiopian announced it would set up a graduate business school to help young Africans gain organizational and industrial skills.
A huge part of the state-controlled enterprise's ambition involves training pilots, cabin crew, and maintenance technicians at its aviation academy founded in 1956. Yet as impeccable and groundbreaking as the aviation school is, the crash is now raising questions over how regularly and extensively Ethiopian trains its pilots.
The ET 302 flight was captained by Yared Getachew, a 29-year-old with over 8,000 hours of flying, along with 25-year-old first officer Ahmednur Mohammed with 350 flying hours. But as investigations unfold, and similarities are drawn with the October Lion Air crash in Indonesia, a New York Times report questioned if any of the pilots were trained on the Boeing 737 Max 8 simulator, which the airline reportedly only just installed in January.
The system in question is the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), a feature incorporated to direct the nose of the plane downwards if it is in danger of stalling. When the plane was first introduced, both Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration agreed pilots who had flown a related earlier 737 model 'didnt need additional simulator training, nor instructions specifically about MCAS.
Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday (Mar. 21) said its pilots had completed the original training noting, “The B-737 Max full flight simulator is not designed to simulate the MCAS system problems.”
Boeing also announced it had developed a software patch and pilot training program to address issues with the Boeing 737 MAX. A US Senate committee is also set to hold a hearing with Boeing and other manufacturers on safety next week.
However, because the crashed occurred within an Ethiopian aircraft, Harteveldt says concerns will be raised on whether the pilots did everything they should have, and “what, if any, responsibility rests with Ethiopian and what responsibility would rest with Boeing.”
Era of privatization
As a flagship state company, Ethiopian Airlines is also one of the key government enterprises up for liberalization as part of wider reforms to revitalize the economy and reduce poverty. The airline holds a focal point in the Horn of Africa nation's economy, promoting tourism, boosting the horticulture and floriculture industries through exports, and creating employment for tens of thousands of people.
Because it is state-backed, Ethiopian Airlines at this crucial juncture is “in a better position in terms of addressing the financial consequences” emitting from both the crash and the grounding of the 737 Max 8 passenger jets, says Chrystal Zhang, senior lecturer in aviation at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.
And even though crashes do have an impact on reputation, Zhang says the airline's safety record, its rapid growth and high performance, their swift response to the crisis, along with Boeing's faulty system designs means the crash won't “damage the confidence of those investors who would be interested in this privatization initiative.”
To cushion itself, Ethiopian could “optimally redeploy its fleet to make up for the grounding of the 737 MAXs,” says Zemedeneh Negatu, an Ethiopian-American investor and aviation expert who acts as a transaction advisor to more than 15 airlines across Africa.
The airline's 111-plane fleet is currently less than five years of age, with 63 more on order. As part of its global ambitions, Ethiopian hopes to increase its fleet to 200 and raise its revenue targets to $10 billion by 2025.
Assuring customers and partners
But beyond communicating with passengers and regulators and remaining forthright with the media, Zhang says Ethiopian Airlines should make assuring their employees a “priority.” Harteveldt agrees, saying there needs to be transparency with the staff on all levels around the recovery process and the timelines of the investigation.
“This is not something where they can initiate a price cut to get customers to come back or change delivery of airplanes,” Harteveldt said. “This is far more serious and far more substantial of a business challenge.”
Zemedeneh, who used to gaze at Ethiopian Airlines planes as a young boy in Addis Ababa, said the airline could also capitalize on the “confidence and loyalty” imparted by customers and aviation experts over its track record in the past week.
“This is a rare, unanimous respect given to [an] airline from an emerging market, especially in Africa.”