United Continental pulls 737 MAX flights out of schedule

FILE PHOTO: A worker from United attends to some customers during their check in process at Newark International airport in New Jersey , November 15, 2012. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo

(Reuters) – United Continental Holdings Inc said on Monday it had pulled Boeing Co’s 737 MAX flights out of its schedule through early July, following similar moves by rivals American Airlines Group Inc and Southwest Airlines Co.

United, with 14 MAX jets, had largely avoided cancellations by servicing MAX routes with larger 777 or 787 aircraft.

But the airline’s president, Scott Kirby, warned last week that the strategy was costing it money and could not go on forever.

Boeing’s 737 MAX planes have been grounded worldwide since March after an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed, killing all 157 aboard, just five months after a similar crash of Indonesia’s Lion Air flight.

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

Southwest removes 737 MAX jets from schedule through August 5

FILE PHOTO: A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California, U.S., March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Southwest Airlines Co said on Thursday it would remove its 34 Boeing Co 737 MAX jets from its flying schedule through Aug. 5, leading to around 160 daily flight cancellations during the revised summer schedule.

In a statement, Southwest President Tom Nealon said the decision is meant to “increase the reliability of our schedule and reduce the amount of last-minute flight changes,” especially during the summer travel season.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Ethiopian crash report shows pilots wrestling with controls

Ethiopian transport minister Dagmawit Moges addresses a news conference on the preliminary report to the Ethiopian Airlines ET 302 plane crash in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

By Jason Neely

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Pilots of an Ethiopian Airlines jet wrestled with controls to stay aloft but plunged to the ground after restoring current to a computer system that was ordering the nose down because of faulty sensor data, a preliminary report showed on Thursday.

The Boeing 737 MAX hit an airspeed as high as 500 knots (575 miles per hour), well above its operational limits, before cockpit data recordings stopped as the plane crashed on March 10 killing all 157 passengers and crew.

“Most of the wreckage was found buried in the ground,” said the report by Ethiopia’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau.

The doomed flight crashed six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa in clear conditions.

Boeing’s top-selling aircraft has been grounded worldwide since the March 10 disaster, which came just five months after a Lion Air 737 MAX crash in Indonesia that killed 189. An initial report into that accident also raised questions about the jet’s software, as well as training and maintenance.

Ethiopia urged Boeing to review its flight control technology and said pilots of the state carrier had carried out proper procedures in the first public findings on the crash.

“The crew performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer but was not able to control the aircraft,” Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges told a news conference, presenting the outlines of a preliminary report.

Boeing Co, whose shares rose 2.4 percent on Thursday but were still below their level before the crash, said its software fix for its anti-stall system would give pilots the authority to always override the system if activated by faulty sensor data.

Families of the victims, regulators and travelers around the world have been waiting for signs of whether the two crashes are linked, and the extent to which Boeing technology and the actions of the Ethiopian Airlines pilots played a role.

Ethiopian investigators did not blame anyone for the crash, stressing the importance of international rules requiring civil probes to focus on recommendations for safer flight. A final report is due within a year.

FILE PHOTO: People walk past a part of the wreckage at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: People walk past a part of the wreckage at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

CONTROL SYSTEM

But in a clear indication of where Ethiopian investigators are directing the attention of regulators, they cleared the pilots of using incorrect procedures and issued two safety recommendations focused on the recently introduced aircraft.

They suggested that Boeing review the controllability of the 737 MAX systems and that aviation authorities confirm any changes before allowing that model of plane back into the air.

“Since repetitive uncommanded aircraft nose down conditions are noticed … it is recommended that the aircraft control system shall be reviewed by the manufacturer,” Dagmawit said.

The nose-down commands were issued by Boeing’s so-called MCAS software. The preliminary report into the Lion Air disaster suggested pilots lost control after grappling with MCAS, a new automated anti-stall feature that repeatedly lowered the nose of the aircraft based on faulty data from a sensor.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which has come under fire over the way it decided to certify the plane and its MCAS software, cautioned the investigation had not yet concluded.

“We continue to work toward a full understanding of all aspects of this accident. As we learn more about the accident and findings become available, we will take appropriate action,” the U.S. agency said in a statement.

FAULTY DATA

Ethiopian Airlines said its crew had followed all the correct guidance to handle a difficult emergency.

However, the report could spark a debate with Boeing about how crew members responded to problems triggered by faulty data from an airflow sensor, particularly over whether they steadied the plane before turning key software off.

Questions on whether the pilots had leveled out the plane before disengaging MCAS and how many times MCAS activated were not answered in a news conference that lasted about 40 minutes.

The New York Times quoted Dagmawit as saying pilots turned MCAS off and on, which is not the step recommended in published Boeing procedures telling crew to leave it off once disabled, though there is growing debate among safety experts about what unstable conditions may have prompted such an unusual step.

Most accidents take months of analysis because of the need to trace backwards to find a root cause from tangled evidence.

“There is a big difference between having the data and knowing the cause,” a senior European investigator said.

Officials denied reports of tensions between Ethiopian officials and U.S. and other foreign investigators accredited to the probe.

“We don’t have any reservations from different stakeholders who were engaged in the investigations,” chief investigator Amdye Ayalew Fanta said.

Following a previous Ethiopian Airlines accident off Beirut in 2010, Addis Ababa authorities rejected the conclusions of a Lebanese investigation citing pilot error and suggested the aircraft had exploded in a possible act of sabotage.

Aviation safety analyst Paul Hayes said deeper investigation would delve into the role played by software and how pilots were able to respond, and said he hoped scars from the 2010 dispute would not get in the way of a comprehensive investigation.

“Pilots shouldn’t have to cope with such an emergency situation. We need to understand what are the factors that meant these two crews were overcome,” said Hayes, safety director at UK-based consultancy Flight Ascend.

“It is unusual for there to be a single cause,” he added.

Boeing said on Wednesday it had successfully tested an update of MCAS software designed to make it easier to handle.

(Reporting by Jason Neely; Writing by Katharine Houreld and Tim Hepher; Additional reporting by Maggie Fick, Jamie Freed and David Shepardson; Editing by Mark Potter)

American Airlines pilots will test 737 MAX software fix in Boeing simulator

FILE PHOTO: An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, U.S. March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

By Tracy Rucinski

CHICAGO (Reuters) – American Airlines pilots will test Boeing Co’s 737 MAX software fix on simulators this weekend, the pilots’ union told Reuters on Thursday, a key step in restoring confidence in the jet after two fatal crashes.

Boeing has been working on a software upgrade for an anti-stall system and pilot displays on its fastest-selling jetliner in the wake of the deadly Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October.

Similarities between the flight path in the Lion Air incident and a fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10 have raised fresh questions about the system. The two crashes killed a total of 346 people.

American is the second-largest U.S. operator of the MAX in the United States with 24 jets, behind Southwest Airlines with 34.

“This airplane can be a safe airplane, and there have been great strides on getting a fix in the works, but I’ll have a better feel after we can test it out,” said Mike Michaelis, safety committee chairman of the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents American Airlines pilots.

Michaelis said one APA pilot and one pilot from American’s management team would test the software fix in Renton, Washington, where Boeing builds the MAX and has two simulators.

“We have been engaging with all 737 MAX operators and we are continuing to schedule meetings to share information about our plans for supporting the 737 MAX fleet,” Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman said.

MAX jets were grounded worldwide in the wake of the Ethiopian crash.

Boeing has indicated it would deploy the software update by April or sooner, though it was unclear how long it would take to get the jets flying again. Pilots must complete FAA-approved computer-based training on the changes, followed by a mandatory test, and some pilots have said more may be needed.

After Lion Air, American pilots met with Boeing executives in Fort Worth, Texas and demanded to know why the manufacturer had not told them about the new system, known as MCAS.

They also questioned whether a 56-minute iPad course on the MAX had been sufficient.

MAX simulator training is not required, partly because few simulators exist. Southwest and American expect to receive MAX simulators later this year.

The main simulator producer, Canada’s CAE Inc, said it has delivered nine of the simulators, which are now in high demand but take about a year to build. CAE expects to deliver 20 more in 2019.

“When it comes to safety issues, it has to be a full-course meal, nothing a la carte,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the American Airlines pilots’ union and a 737 pilot.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; editing by Darren Schuettler and Nick Zieminski)

With 737 MAX grounded, airlines face daily scheduling challenges

FILE PHOTO: Southwest Airlines Co. Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft sit next to the maintenance area after landing at Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kamil Kraczynski

By Tracy Rucinski and Allison Lampert

CHICAGO/MONTREAL (Reuters) – Following the global grounding of Boeing Co’s 737 MAX jets, U.S. and Canadian airlines that fly the roughly 175-seat aircraft face a fresh logistical challenge every day: which flights to cancel and which to cover with other planes.

Southwest Airlines Co and American Airlines Group Inc, the two largest MAX operators in the United States, said they have bolstered their reservation and operations teams to figure out how to spread flight cancellations across their networks, not just on MAX flights.

American Airlines, for example, had most of its 24 MAX jets flying in and out of Miami, where load factors have been full during the Spring Break season.

“We can’t just cancel all of those flights, so the goal is to spread out the cancellations across our entire system to impact the least amount of customers,” American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said.

This means that an American Airlines flight from Miami to the Caribbean initially scheduled on a 737 MAX may now fly on a 737-800 with a similar seat configuration, while that 737-800 flight is canceled.

“It’s a challenge to explain to customers who weren’t previously booked on a MAX why their flight is canceled,” Feinstein said.

The 737 MAX jets were grounded last week following two fatal crashes in the past five months, the causes of which are under investigation.

Southwest, the largest MAX operator in the world with 34 jets representing about 5 percent of its total fleet, is canceling about 150 flights per day due to the grounding, but not all on MAX routes.

Steve West, Senior Director of Southwest’s Operations Control, said the company is trying to cancel flights five days in advance, while looking at issues such as weather, that could free up jets, like last week’s snowstorm in Colorado.

Southwest and American were already grappling with a larger than the normal number of out-of-service aircraft, further straining their fleets.

So far United Airlines, with 14 MAX aircraft, has not canceled any flights due to the grounding but has had to put smaller aircraft on some routes and fly the larger 777 to places like Hawaii.

It is unclear how long the grounding will last. Deliveries are also on hold, meaning an additional hit to airlines due to receive more of the jets this year.

Boeing has over 5,000 orders for the MAX, which sold fast thanks to its higher fuel-efficiency and longer range. Now airlines face a dent to 2019 profits.

Calgary-based WestJet said it took steps prior to the MAX grounding to start protecting trans-border flights to sunny destinations that were previously scheduled to fly with the carrier’s 13 MAX planes.

Meanwhile, Air Canada said on Tuesday it would remove its 24 737 MAX aircraft from its schedule until at least July 1, 2019.

“It is easier to put the aircraft back in the schedule than to pull it out,” said a source familiar with the carrier’s thinking, who is not allowed to publicly discuss its strategy.

 

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Exclusive: Cockpit voice recorder of doomed Lion Air jet depicts pilots’ frantic search for fix – sources

FILE PHOTO: An Indonesian National Transportation Safety Commission (KNKT) official examines a turbine engine from the Lion Air flight JT610 at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta/File Photo

By Cindy Silviana, Jamie Freed and Tim Hepher

JAKARTA/SINGAPORE/PARIS (Reuters) – The pilots of a doomed Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX scoured a handbook as they struggled to understand why the jet was lurching downwards, but ran out of time before it hit the water, three people with knowledge of the cockpit voice recorder contents said.

The investigation into the crash, which killed all 189 people on board in October, has taken on new relevance as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators grounded the model last week after a second deadly accident in Ethiopia.

Investigators examining the Indonesian crash are considering how a computer ordered the plane to dive in response to data from a faulty sensor and whether the pilots had enough training to respond appropriately to the emergency, among other factors.

It is the first time the voice recorder contents from the Lion Air flight have been made public. The three sources discussed them on condition of anonymity.

Reuters did not have access to the recording or transcript.

A Lion Air spokesman said all data and information had been given to investigators and declined to comment further.

The captain was at the controls of Lion Air flight JT610 when the nearly new jet took off from Jakarta, and the first officer was handling the radio, according to a preliminary report issued in November.

Just two minutes into the flight, the first officer reported a “flight control problem” to air traffic control and said the pilots intended to maintain an altitude of 5,000 feet, the November report said.

The first officer did not specify the problem, but one source said airspeed was mentioned on the cockpit voice recording, and a second source said an indicator showed a problem on the captain’s display but not the first officer’s.

The captain asked the first officer to check the quick reference handbook, which contains checklists for abnormal events, the first source said.

For the next nine minutes, the jet warned pilots it was in a stall and pushed the nose down in response, the report showed. A stall is when the airflow over a plane’s wings is too weak to generate lift and keep it flying.

The captain fought to climb, but the computer, still incorrectly sensing a stall, continued to push the nose down using the plane’s trim system. Normally, trim adjusts an aircraft’s control surfaces to ensure it flies straight and level.

“They didn’t seem to know the trim was moving down,” the third source said. “They thought only about airspeed and altitude. That was the only thing they talked about.”

Boeing Co declined to comment on Wednesday because the investigation was ongoing.

The manufacturer has said there is a documented procedure to handle the situation. A different crew on the same plane the evening before encountered the same problem but solved it after running through three checklists, according to the November report.

But they did not pass on all of the information about the problems they encountered to the next crew, the report said.

The pilots of JT610 remained calm for most of the flight, the three sources said. Near the end, the captain asked the first officer to fly while he checked the manual for a solution.

About one minute before the plane disappeared from radar, the captain asked air traffic control to clear other traffic below 3,000 feet and requested an altitude of “five thou”, or 5,000 feet, which was approved, the preliminary report said.

As the 31-year-old captain tried in vain to find the right procedure in the handbook, the 41-year-old first officer was unable to control the plane, two of the sources said.

The flight data recorder shows the final control column inputs from the first officer were weaker than the ones made earlier by the captain.

“It is like a test where there are 100 questions and when the time is up you have only answered 75,” the third source said. “So you panic. It is a time-out condition.”

The Indian-born captain was silent at the end, all three sources said, while the Indonesian first officer said “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is greatest”, a common Arabic phrase in the majority-Muslim country that can be used to express excitement, shock, praise or distress.

The plane then hit the water, killing all 189 people on board.

French air accident investigation agency BEA said on Tuesday the flight data recorder in the Ethiopian crash that killed 157 people showed “clear similarities” to the Lion Air disaster. Since the Lion Air crash, Boeing has been pursuing a software upgrade to change how much authority is given to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, a new anti-stall system developed for the 737 MAX.

The cause of the Lion Air crash has not been determined, but the preliminary report mentioned the Boeing system, a faulty, recently replaced sensor and the airline’s maintenance and training.

On the same aircraft the evening before the crash, a captain at Lion Air’s full-service sister carrier, Batik Air, was riding along in the cockpit and solved the similar flight control problems, two of the sources said. His presence on that flight, first reported by Bloomberg, was not disclosed in the preliminary report.

The report also did not include data from the cockpit voice recorder, which was not recovered from the ocean floor until January.

Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesian investigation agency KNKT, said last week the report could be released in July or August as authorities attempted to speed up the inquiry in the wake of the Ethiopian crash.

On Wednesday, he declined to comment on the cockpit voice recorder contents, saying they had not been made public.

(Reporting by Cindy Silviana in Jakarta, Jamie Freed in Singapore and Tim Hepher in Paris; writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Ethiopia crash black boxes probed in France, families mourn

A relative puts soil on her face as she mourns at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

By Richard Lough and Aaron Maasho

PARIS/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Investigators in France took possession of the crashed Ethiopian Airlines jet’s black boxes on Thursday, seeking clues into a disaster that has grounded Boeing’s global 737 MAX fleet and left scores of families mourning and angry.

Sunday’s crash after take-off from Addis Ababa killed 157 people from 35 nations in the second such calamity involving Boeing’s flagship new model in six months.

Candle flames burn during a commemoration ceremony for the victims at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Candle flames burn during a commemoration ceremony for the victims at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Possible links between the accidents have rocked the aviation industry, scared passengers worldwide, and left the world’s biggest planemaker scrambling to prove the safety of a money-spinning model intended to be the standard for decades.

Relatives of the dead stormed out of a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday, decrying a lack of transparency, while others made the painful trip to the crash scene.

“I can’t find you! Where are you?” said one Ethiopian woman, draped in traditional white mourning shawl, as she held a framed portrait of her brother in the charred and debris-strewn field.

Nations around the world, including an initially reluctant United States, have suspended the 371 MAX models in operation, though airlines are largely coping by switching planes.

Another nearly 5,000 MAXs are on order, meaning the financial implications are huge for the industry.

PARIS INVESTIGATION

After an apparent tussle over where the investigation should be held, the flight data and cockpit voice recorders arrived in Paris and were handed over to France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) agency.

A BEA spokesman said he did not know what condition the black boxes were in. “First we will try to read the data,” he said, adding that the first analyses could take between half a day and several days.

Ethiopian Federal policemen stand at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Ethiopian Federal policemen stand at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

The investigation has added urgency since the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday grounded the 737 MAX aircraft citing satellite data and evidence from the scene indicating some similarities and “the possibility of a shared cause” with October’s crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people.

Though it maintains the planes are safe, Boeing has supported the FAA move. Its stock has fallen about 11 percent since the crash, wiping nearly $26 billion off its market value.

It is unclear how long the Boeing aircraft will be grounded.

A software fix for the 737 MAX that Boeing has been working on since the Lion Air crash in October in Indonesia will take months to complete, the FAA said on Wednesday.

Deliveries of Boeing’s best-selling jets have been effectively frozen, though production continues.

And in what may presage a raft of claims, Norwegian Air has said it will seek compensation from Boeing for costs and lost revenue after grounding its fleet of 737 MAX. Japan became the latest nation to suspend the 737 MAX planes on Thursday. And airline Garuda Indonesia said there was a possibility it would cancel its 20-strong order of 737 MAXs, depending on what the FAA does.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Under international rules, the Ethiopians are leading the investigation but France’s BEA will conduct black box analysis as an advisor. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will also have an influential role as representatives of the country where the Boeing plane was made.

The choice of the BEA followed what experts say appears to have been a tug-of-war between national agencies, with Germany initially invited to do the analysis.

Ethiopian Airlines criticized a French-backed investigation into a crash in Lebanon in 2010, when an Ethiopian plane crashed into the sea after take-off. It said the investigation was biased against the pilots, who were blamed for the crash.

There is a small pool of countries including Britain, France, the United States, Canada and Australia that are seen as leading investigators. But only France and the United States have the experience gleaned from being present at almost every crash involving an Airbus or Boeing respectively.

Since the Indonesia crash, there has been attention on an automated anti-stall system in the MAX model that dips the plane’s nose down.

The pilot of Flight 302 had reported internal control problems and received permission to return, before the plane came down and burst into a fireball on arid farmland.

Relatives are desperate to know what happened and to receive fragments if not corpses, given the fire and destruction at the site. They were at least able to vent their grief.

“We saw where he died and touched the earth,” said Sultan Al-Mutairi, who came from Riyadh to say goodbye to his brother Saad, who ran a recruitment agency in Kenya.

(Reporting by Richard Lough, Tim Hepher and John Irish in Paris, Duncan Miriri and Aaron Masho in Addis Ababa, David Shepardson in Washington, Omar Mohammed and Maggie Fick in Nairobi; Josephine Mason in London; Junko Fujita in Tokyo; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Britain joins Boeing suspensions, investigators probe Ethiopia crash

Passengers' personal belongings are seen at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

By Duncan Miriri and Tim Hepher

ADDIS ABABA/PARIS (Reuters) – Britain joined a growing wave of suspensions of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft around the world on Tuesday, escalating the global alarm after a crash in Ethiopia that killed 157 people in the second such disaster for the model in the past few months.

The decision by one of the industry’s most established regulators was the most serious setback yet for Boeing in the wake of Sunday’s crash and put pressure on regulators in the rest of Europe and the United States to follow suit.

At the same time as London’s announcement, Norwegian Air said it too would temporarily ground its MAX 8 passenger jets on the advice of European regulators.

Earlier, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and Oman had also temporarily suspended the aircraft, following China, Indonesia and others the day before.

“The UK, Singapore and Australia are independent professionals,” said Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia. “I am sure the (U.S.) Federal Aviation Administration will take their judgment into account.”

Sunday’s disaster – after the fatal crash of a 737 MAX jet in Indonesia in October – has wiped billions of dollars off the market value of the world’s biggest planemaker.

But experts say it is too early to speculate on the reason for the crash or whether the two are linked. Most crashes are caused by a unique chain of human and technical factors.

Given problems of identification at the charred disaster site, Ethiopian Airlines said it would take at least five days to start handing remains to families.

The victims came from more than 30 different nations, and included nearly two dozen U.N. staff.

“We are Muslim and have to bury our deceased immediately,” Noordin Mohamed, a 27-year-old Kenyan businessman whose brother and mother died, told Reuters.

“Losing a brother and mother in the same day and not having their bodies to bury is very painful,” he said in the Kenyan capital Nairobi where the plane had been due.

 

Wreckage is seen at the site of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Wreckage is seen at the site of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

FIREBALL

Flight ET 302 came down in a field soon after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday, creating a fireball in a crater. It may take weeks or months to identify all the victims, who include a prize-winning author, a soccer official and a team of humanitarian workers.

The United States has said it remained safe to fly the planes, and Boeing has said there is no need to issue new guidance to operators based on the information it has so far.

Ethiopian Airlines has grounded its four other 737 MAX 8 jets as a precaution.

Anxiety was also evident among some travelers, who rushed to find out from social media and travel agents whether they were booked to fly on 737 MAX planes – the same model in the Lion Air crash off Indonesia that killed 189 people in October.

If the black box recordings found at the Ethiopian crash site are undamaged, the cause of the crash could be identified quickly, although it typically takes a year for a full probe.

Nearly 40 percent of the in-service fleet of 371 Boeing 737 MAX jets globally is grounded, according to industry publication Flightglobal. That includes 97 jets in biggest market China.

Boeing shares fell another 4.8 percent on Tuesday after having lost 5 percent on Monday.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a “continued airworthiness notification” for the 737 MAX on Monday to assure operators, and detailed a series of design changes mandated by Boeing after the Indonesia crash.

FILE PHOTO - SilkAir's new aircraft, the Boeing 737 Max 8, sits on the tarmac at Changi Airport in Singapore October 4, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

FILE PHOTO – SilkAir’s new aircraft, the Boeing 737 Max 8, sits on the tarmac at Changi Airport in Singapore October 4, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

BETTER SOFTWARE

Boeing said it had been working with the FAA following the Lion Air crash to enhance flight control software that would be deployed across the 737 MAX fleet in the coming weeks.

The MAX 8 has new software that automatically pushes the plane’s nose down if a stall is detected. There is no evidence so far whether the system was involved in the Ethiopia crash, though experts said this would be a focus of the investigation.

The new variant of the 737, the world’s best-selling modern passenger aircraft, could become the workhorse for airlines around the globe for decades and another 4,661 are on order.

In Latin America, Gol in Brazil temporarily suspended MAX 8 flights, as did Argentina’s state airline Aerolineas Argentinas and Mexico’s Aeromexico.

In Asia, South Korean budget carrier Eastar Jet said it would temporarily ground its two 737 MAX 8s from Wednesday, while India ordered additional checks.

Vietnam state media reported the aviation regulator would not issue licenses to local airlines to operate the 737 MAX until the cause of the Ethiopian crash was known.

Still, major airlines from North America to the Middle East kept flying the 737 MAX. Southwest Airlines Co, which operates the largest fleet of 737 MAX 8s, said it remained confident in the safety of all its Boeing planes.

Former FAA accident investigator Mike Daniel said the decision by regulators to ground the planes was premature. “To me it’s almost surreal how quickly some of the regulators are just grounding the aircraft without any factual information yet as a result of the investigation,” he told Reuters.

In Nairobi, the U.N. Environment Program set up a small memorial for Victor Tsang, a staff member who lost his life.

“Travel well my friend, see you on the other side,” said one entry in a condolence book beside a framed photograph, bouquet of flowers and candle. By mid-afternoon, 23 pages of the condolence book had been filled with over 250 names.

(Additional reporting by Jamie Freed and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Katharine Houreld and Hereward Holland in Nairobi; Eric Johnson in Seattle; James Pearson in Hanoi; Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Heekyong Yang in Seoul; Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Georgina Prodhan, Jon Boyle and Keith Weir)

Doomed Lion Air jet was ‘not airworthy’ on penultimate flight: investigators

Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) sub-committee head for air accidents, Nurcahyo Utomo, holds a model airplane while speaking next to deputy chief of KNKT Haryo Satmiko during a news conference on its investigation into a Lion Air plane crash last month, in Jakarta, Indonesia November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

By Cindy Silviana and Fergus Jensen

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A Lion Air jet that crashed into the sea off Indonesia last month was not in an airworthy condition on its second-to-last flight, when pilots experienced similar problems to those on its doomed last journey, investigators said on Wednesday.

Contact with the Boeing 737 MAX jet was lost 13 minutes after it took off on Oct. 29 from the capital, Jakarta, heading north to the tin-mining town of Pangkal Pinang.

In a preliminary report, Indonesia’s transport safety committee (KNKT) focused on the airline’s maintenance practices and pilot training and a Boeing anti-stall system but did not give a cause for the crash that killed all 189 people on board.

The report unveiled fresh details of efforts by pilots to steady the jet as they reported a “flight control problem”, including the captain’s last words to air traffic control asking to be cleared to “five thou” or 5,000 feet.

Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait on Wednesday evening rejected some media reports quoting KNKT that the airline’s Boeing 737 passenger jet that crashed on Oct. 29 was not airworthy since its penultimate flight from Denpasar to Jakarta.

It had been cleared as airworthy by Lion Air engineers on that flight as well as its final flight, KNKT investigator Nurcahyo Utomo said earlier in the day.

“I think pilots can judge for themselves whether to continue,” said Lion Air Managing Director Daniel Putut, a former pilot.

Utomo, in contrast, pointed to multiple problems, including the “severe” issue of stall warnings occurring in tandem on the Bali-Jakarta flight that were enough for the KNKT to determine the flight should not have continued.

Information retrieved from the flight data recorder showed the “stick shaker” was vibrating the captain’s controls, warning of a stall throughout most of the flight. The captain was using his controls to bring the plane’s nose up, but an automated anti-stall system was pushing it down.

Pilots flying the same plane a day earlier had experienced a similar problem, en route from Denpasar, Bali to Jakarta, until they used switches to shut off the system and used manual controls to fly and stabilize the plane, KNKT said.

“The flight from Denpasar to Jakarta experienced stick shaker activation during the takeoff rotation and remained active throughout the flight,” the committee said.

“This condition is considered un-airworthy” and the flight should have been “discontinued”.

The pilots of that flight reported problems to Lion Air’s maintenance team, which checked the jet and cleared it for take-off the next morning.

Former Boeing flight control engineer Peter Lemme said stick shaker activation was “very distracting and unnerving”.

“It’s not something you ever want to have happen as a pilot,” he said.

Utomo said the agency had not determined if the anti-stall system, which was not explained to pilots in manuals, was a contributing factor.

“We still don’t know yet, if it contributed or not,” he said in response to a question. “It is too early to conclude.”

In a statement, Boeing drew attention in detail to a list of airline maintenance actions set out in the report but stopped short of blaming ground workers or pilots for the accident.

REVISED ANTI-STALL SYSTEM

The manufacturer, which has said procedures for preventing an anti-stall system activating by accident were already in place, said pilots of the penultimate flight had used that drill but noted the report did not say if pilots of the doomed flight did so.

Boeing’s statement did not make any reference to a revised anti-stall system introduced on the 737 MAX which U.S. pilots and Indonesian investigators say was missing from the operating manual.

Boeing says the procedure for dealing with a so-called runaway stabiliser, under which anti-stall systems push the nose down even when the plane is not entering a stall or losing lift, had not changed between an earlier version of the 737 and the newly delivered 737 MAX.

Pilots however say the control column behaves differently in certain conditions, which could confuse pilots who have flown the earlier model.

Indonesian regulators were urged after previous accidents to improve their oversight of maintenance and pilot training.

In an interview, Indonesia’s director general of aviation, Polana Pramesti, said the agency planned to require pilots in Indonesia to be trained on simulators for the MAX series.

Pramesti also said a new regulation was being planned to limit the risk of pilot fatigue occurring and should be issued in the “near future”.

A source at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said a number of factors were ultimately likely to be cited as causes of the crash, including pilot training and maintenance. It had still to be determined how much, if at all, the plane design would be faulted, the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The report provided new recommendations to Lion Air on safety on top of earlier recommendations about the flight manual that have already been implemented by Boeing.

Lion Air CEO Sirait said the airline would comply with KNKT’s recommendations which included ensuring pilots made the proper decision on whether to continue a flight.

Authorities have downloaded data from the flight data recorder, but are still looking for the cockpit voice recorder (CVR).

Indonesia plans to bring in a ship from Singapore able to stay in position without dropping anchor, to help with the search.

Asked what was needed from the CVR, Utomo said: “A lot. Discussions between the left and right pilots were about what? What procedures did they carry out. Were there any strange noises?”

Without it, he said there would be “a lot of guessing”.

(Reporting by Cindy Silviana and Fergus Jensen; additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris, David Shepardson in Washington, Tracy Rucinski in Chicago, Eric M Johnson in Seattle and Gayatri Suroyo in Jakarta; Writing by Ed Davies and Jamie Freed; Editing by Darren Schuettler, Nick Macfie and David Evans)