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One year after plane crash, Boeing struggles to revive 737 Max model

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• Airline remembers Adesanmi, Bashua, 155 others

Today marks a year after the Ethiopian Airlines’ 737 Max plane crashed in Ethiopia, forcing the airplane model to be grounded worldwide and still not revived to date.

Ethiopian Airlines (ET) yesterday remembered two Nigerians – Prof. Pius Adesanmi and Amb. Abiodun Bashua, and other 155 persons who died in the plane crash.

The airlines, after its Morning Prayer ritual at Addis Ababa, Ethiopian, recalled all the deceased and their family. The American manufacturer, after several efforts to get the model running, still has several regulatory and technical struggles to overcome.

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In February, each airline decided to push back its timeline and keep the plane grounded through the summer travel season. Southwest announced they’ll keep the aircraft grounded until August 10, American will keep it grounded until August 18, and United will keep it grounded until September 4.

In their most recent financial report, Boeing, which ousted its CEO Dennis Muilenburg before Christmas, reported a $636 million dollar loss over the past year and a $1 billion in the 4th quarter alone.

The ET management also disclosed that the Boeing’s training recommendations were inadequate for Ethiopian Airlines Group pilots switching to the Max jet from older 737 models before the fatal crash.

More simulator sessions will be needed to familiarise aviators with a safety feature known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, Ethiopian investigators wrote in a 136-page report, released by country’s ministry of transport on Monday.

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The MCAS was central to the reasons why a Boeing 737 Max plane operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed into a field near Addis Ababa on March 10 last year, killing all 157 people on board.

Regulators grounded the Max model globally, days after the accident, following a similar deadly crash in Indonesia five months earlier. Work to redesign the MCAS software and to address additional safety issues still isn’t complete and the U.S. manufacturer doesn’t expect its top-selling jet to return until summer at the earliest.

In both the Ethiopian Airlines incident and a Lion Air plane crash in October 2018, the Max jets were hit by a malfunction that triggered repeated, automated attempts to dive the plane. It was possible for the pilots to counteract the problem, but they became confused and were eventually overwhelmed, according to earlier reports.

Helping explain what the aviators were doing is key for investigators, yet the new report from Ethiopia’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau doesn’t address the pilots’ behaviour. The conclusions focus on Boeing, including issues with MCAS and the angle-of-attack software used during takeoff.

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The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Ethiopian authorities set training requirements for the 737 Max. Boeing had insisted that the Max was so similar to earlier models that only limited training was needed to move from one to the other, and made that a selling point for the plane.

While the underlying MCAS failure occurred in both crashes, there are also significant differences between the two incidents. Notably, the actions by the pilots varied significantly, according to available data from both investigations.

On the Ethiopian flight, a wind vane-like sensor on the left side of the plane, designed to show whether its nose was pointed above or below the oncoming wind, failed on takeoff. That caused a string of alarms, creating a disorientating environment of loud warnings and disagreeing instruments.

About 80 seconds after liftoff, MCAS activated, pushing the nose down for nine seconds. It reactivated a short time later, leaving the plane difficult to control.

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The pilots responded by shutting off power to the motor commanding the dive – as recommended to pilots by Boeing after the first crash. But they apparently switched it back on, which prompted MCAS to activate again and led to the final dive. Further actions made the situation worse and the plane became difficult to control.

Most notably, the crew left their engines set at takeoff power, which caused the plane to fly far faster than its design limit. At least for portions of the flight, the pilots also had the ability to counteract MCAS with switches on their control columns. Yet they never brought the plane back to a normal configuration.

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