Ethiopia says crashed jet’s black boxes show similarities to Lion Air disaster

A woman mourns next to coffins during the burial ceremony of the Ethiopian Airline Flight ET 302 crash victims at the Holy Trinity Cathedral Orthodox church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Maheder Haileselassie

 

By Maggie Fick and David Shepardson

ADDIS ABABA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane that killed 157 people had “clear similarities” with October’s Lion Air crash, Ethiopia said on Sunday, shown by initial analysis of the black boxes recovered from the wreckage of the March 10 disaster.

The crash has generated one of the most widely watched and high-stakes inquiries for years, with the latest version of Boeing’s profitable 737 workhorse depending on the outcome.

Both planes were MAX 8s, and both crashed minutes post take-off after pilots reported flight control problems. Concern over the plane’s safety led aviation authorities to ground the model, wiping billions of dollars off Boeing’s market value.

“It was the same case with the Indonesian (Lion Air) one. There were clear similarities between the two crashes so far,” Ethiopian transport ministry spokesman Muse Yiheyis said.

“The data was successfully recovered. Both the American team and our (Ethiopian) team validated it,” he told Reuters, adding that the ministry would provide more information after three or four days.

In Washington, however, U.S. officials told Reuters the FAA and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had not yet validated the data.

Boeing’s safety analysis of a new flight control system known as MCAS on MAX jets had several crucial flaws, one of which was that it understated the power of the system, the Seattle Times said on Sunday.

The FAA also did not delve in detailed inquiries and followed a standard certification process on the MAX, the paper said, citing an FAA spokesman.

The FAA declined to comment on the report but referred to previous statements about the certification process. It has said the process followed FAA’s standard process.

Citing people familiar with the inquiry, the Wall Street Journal said Department of Transportation officials are scrutinizing the FAA’s approval of MAX jets and a Washington, D.C. grand jury issued a subpoena to at least one person involved in the MAX’s development.

The subpoena dated March 11 – a day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash – listed as a contact a prosecutor from the Justice Department’s (DoJ) criminal division and sought documents to be handed over later this month, the paper said.

It was not immediately clear whether the DoJ subpoena was related to the DoT’s inquiry, which focuses on MCAS, implicated in the Lion Air crash that killed 189 people, the WSJ added.

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment on the WSJ report.

Two government officials briefed on the matter told Reuters it would not be surprising for the Transportation Department to investigate a major safety issue, but could not immediately confirm the report.

SAFETY ANALYSIS

An official told Reuters that when investigators – after reviewing black box data from the Ethiopian Airlines crash – return to Addis Ababa to conduct interpretive work, the NTSB and FAA will assist in verification and validation of the data.

A second source said little information had been circulated between parties about the contents of data and voice recordings.

It was not clear how many of the roughly 1,800 parameters of flight data and two hours of cockpit recordings, spanning the doomed six-minute flight and earlier trips, had been taken into account in the preliminary Ethiopian analysis.

International rules require a preliminary report on the crash to be released within 30 days.

Previous air crash reports show that in such high-profile cases there can be disagreements among parties about the cause.

In Paris, France’s BEA air accident investigation agency said data from the jet’s cockpit voice recorder had been successfully downloaded. The French agency said on Twitter it had not listened to the audio files and the data had been transferred to Ethiopian investigators.

In Addis Ababa, a source who has listened to the air traffic control recording of the plane’s communications said flight 302 had an unusually high speed after take-off before it reported problems and asked permission to climb quickly.

Last Monday, Boeing, shares of which have fallen 10 percent in the week since the crash, said it would deploy a software upgrade to the 737 MAX 8, hours after the FAA said it would mandate “design changes” in the aircraft by April.

Boeing was finalizing the software change and a training revision and would evaluate new information as it became available, Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement on Sunday, after the Ethiopian transport ministry’s comments.

A Boeing spokesman said the 737 MAX was certified in line with identical FAA requirements and processes that governed certification of all previous new airplanes and derivatives. The spokesman said the FAA concluded that MCAS on 737 MAX met all certification and regulatory requirements.

(Graphic – The grounded 737 Max fleet: https://tmsnrt.rs/2u5sZYI)

(Graphic – Ethiopian Airlines crash: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Hn6V4k)

(Additional reporting Gaurika Juneja, Tim Hepher, Tracy Rucinski; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh; Editing by William Maclean and Clarence Fernandez)

The crash has generated one of the most widely watched and high-stakes inquiries for years, with the latest version of Boeing’s profitable 737 workhorse depending on the outcome.

Both planes were MAX 8s, and both crashed minutes post take-off after pilots reported flight control problems. Concern over the plane’s safety led aviation authorities to ground the model, wiping billions of dollars off Boeing’s market value.

“It was the same case with the Indonesian (Lion Air) one. There were clear similarities between the two crashes so far,” Ethiopian transport ministry spokesman Muse Yiheyis said.

“The data was successfully recovered. Both the American team and our (Ethiopian) team validated it,” he told Reuters, adding that the ministry would provide more information after three or four days.

In Washington, however, U.S. officials told Reuters the FAA and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had not yet validated the data.

Boeing’s safety analysis of a new flight control system known as MCAS on MAX jets had several crucial flaws, one of which was that it understated the power of the system, the Seattle Times said on Sunday.

The FAA also did not delve in detailed inquiries and followed a standard certification process on the MAX, the paper said, citing an FAA spokesman.

The FAA declined to comment on the report but referred to previous statements about the certification process. It has said the process followed FAA’s standard process.

Citing people familiar with the inquiry, the Wall Street Journal said Department of Transportation officials are scrutinizing the FAA’s approval of MAX jets and a Washington, D.C. grand jury issued a subpoena to at least one person involved in the MAX’s development.

The subpoena dated March 11 – a day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash – listed as a contact a prosecutor from the Justice Department’s (DoJ) criminal division and sought documents to be handed over later this month, the paper said.

It was not immediately clear whether the DoJ subpoena was related to the DoT’s inquiry, which focuses on MCAS, implicated in the Lion Air crash that killed 189 people, the WSJ added.

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment on the WSJ report.

Two government officials briefed on the matter told Reuters it would not be surprising for the Transportation Department to investigate a major safety issue, but could not immediately confirm the report.

SAFETY ANALYSIS

An official told Reuters that when investigators – after reviewing black box data from the Ethiopian Airlines crash – return to Addis Ababa to conduct interpretive work, the NTSB and FAA will assist in verification and validation of the data.

A second source said little information had been circulated between parties about the contents of data and voice recordings.

It was not clear how many of the roughly 1,800 parameters of flight data and two hours of cockpit recordings, spanning the doomed six-minute flight and earlier trips, had been taken into account in the preliminary Ethiopian analysis.

International rules require a preliminary report on the crash to be released within 30 days.

Previous air crash reports show that in such high-profile cases there can be disagreements among parties about the cause.

In Paris, France’s BEA air accident investigation agency said data from the jet’s cockpit voice recorder had been successfully downloaded. The French agency said on Twitter it had not listened to the audio files and the data had been transferred to Ethiopian investigators.

In Addis Ababa, a source who has listened to the air traffic control recording of the plane’s communications said flight 302 had an unusually high speed after take-off before it reported problems and asked permission to climb quickly.

Last Monday, Boeing, shares of which have fallen 10 percent in the week since the crash, said it would deploy a software upgrade to the 737 MAX 8, hours after the FAA said it would mandate “design changes” in the aircraft by April.

Boeing was finalizing the software change and a training revision and would evaluate new information as it became available, Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement on Sunday, after the Ethiopian transport ministry’s comments.

A Boeing spokesman said the 737 MAX was certified in line with identical FAA requirements and processes that governed certification of all previous new airplanes and derivatives. The spokesman said the FAA concluded that MCAS on 737 MAX met all certification and regulatory requirements.

(Graphic – The grounded 737 Max fleet: https://tmsnrt.rs/2u5sZYI)

(Graphic – Ethiopian Airlines crash: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Hn6V4k)

(Additional reporting Gaurika Juneja, Tim Hepher, Tracy Rucinski; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh; Editing by William Maclean and Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. lawmakers say Boeing 737 MAX 8 grounded for at least ‘weeks’

FILE PHOTO: Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are parked at a Boeing production facility in Renton, Washington, U.S., March 11, 2019. REUTERS/David Ryder

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers said after a briefing with the acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday that Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 planes will remain grounded for “weeks” at a minimum until a software upgrade could be tested and installed in all of the planes.

FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told reporters on Wednesday the software update will be ready within a couple of months after regulators around the world grounded the plane following a second fatal crash in the 737 MAX 8 since October.

The FAA said Monday it planned to require the upgrade it termed “design changes” by April. An FAA spokesman confirmed Thursday that the FAA will not unground the airplanes until the software patch is approved and installed.

Boeing and the FAA did not immediately comment. Representative Rick Larsen said after the briefing the software upgrade would take a few weeks to complete and installing on all aircraft would take “at least through April.” He said additional training would also have to take place.

Representative Peter DeFazio, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the software upgrade will result in the airplanes behaving more like older versions of the 737.

The upgrade will revise an automated protection system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS, which come under scrutiny in October’s fatal Lion Air crash in Indonesia.

“After the pilot has tried to correct, the MCAS is going to not keep repeating itself, which is what it does now. It keeps triggering automatically and the pilot has to do it again,” DeFazio said unless it is manually disengaged by the pilot. “It will essentially shut itself off.”

The upgrade will address if there is a disagreement between sensors, DeFazio said.

Lawmakers noted that there have been no confirmed incidents in 50,000 North America flights with the 737 MAX 8 and questioned if training by carriers abroad was an issue.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)

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)

FAA to order inspections of jet engines after Southwest blast

U.S. NTSB investigators are on scene examining damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane in this image released from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 17, 2018. NTSB/Handout via REUTERS

By Alwyn Scott and Alana Wise

(Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it will order inspection of about 220 aircraft engines as investigators have found that a broken fan blade touched off an engine explosion this week on a Southwest flight, killing a passenger.

The regulator said late on Wednesday it plans to finalize the air-worthiness directive within the next two weeks. The order, which it initially proposed in August following an incident in 2016, will require ultrasonic inspection within the next six months of the fan blades on all CFM56-7B engines that have accrued a certain number of takeoffs.

Airlines said that because fan blades may have been repaired and moved to other engines, the order would affect far more than 220 of the CFM56-7Bs, which are made by a partnership of France’s Safran <SAF.PA> and General Electric <GE.N>.

The CFM56 engine on Southwest <LUV.N> flight 1380 blew apart over Pennsylvania on Tuesday, about 20 minutes after the Dallas-bound flight left New York’s LaGuardia Airport with 149 people on board. The explosion sent shrapnel ripping into the fuselage of the Boeing 737-700 plane and shattered a window.

Bank executive Jennifer Riordan, 43, was killed when she was partially pulled through a gaping hole next to her seat as the cabin suffered rapid decompression. Fellow passengers were able to pull her back inside but she died of her injuries.

On Wednesday, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the incident began when one of the engine’s 24 fan blades snapped off from its hub. Investigators found that the blade had suffered metal fatigue at the point of the break.

Sumwalt said he could not yet say if the incident, the first deadly airline accident in the United States since 2009, pointed to a fleet-wide problem in the Boeing 737-700.

Southwest crews were inspecting similar engines the airline had in service, focusing on the 400 to 600 oldest of the CFM56 engines, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. It was the second time this kind of engine had failed on a Southwest jet in the past two years, prompting airlines around the world to step up inspections.

A NTSB inspection crew was also combing over the Boeing <BA.N> 737-700 for signs of what caused the engine to explode.

Sumwalt said the fan blade, after suffering metal fatigue where it attached to the engine hub, has a second fracture about halfway along its length. Pieces of the plane were found in rural Pennsylvania by investigators who tracked them on radar. The metal fatigue would not have been observable by looking at the engine from the outside, Sumwalt said.

Passengers described scenes of panic as a piece of shrapnel from the engine shattered a plane window, almost sucking Riordan out.

Riordan was a Wells Fargo <WFC.N> banking executive and well-known community volunteer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, the company said.

Videos posted on social media showed passengers grabbing for oxygen masks and screaming as the plane, piloted by Tammie Jo Shults, a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot, prepared for the descent into Philadelphia.

The airline expected to wrap up its inspection of the engines it was targeting in about 30 days.

The GE-Safran partnership that built the engine said it was sending about 40 technicians to help with Southwest’s inspections.

Pieces of the engine including its cowling – which covers its inner workings – were found about 60 miles (100 km) from Philadelphia airport, Sumwalt said. The investigation could take 12 to 15 months to complete.

In August 2016, a Southwest flight made a safe emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida, after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine and debris ripped a hole above the left wing. That incident prompted the FAA to propose last year that similar fan blades undergo ultrasonic inspections and be replaced if they failed.

(editing by David Stamp)

United Passenger jet lands in Hawaii after engine covering rips apart

The plane with engine problems is seen on the tarmac in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., February 13, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Peter Lemme/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Passengers aboard a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Honolulu had a scary trip over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, after the casing around one of the engines ripped apart, officials said.

The plane with engine problems is seen on the tarmac in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., February 13, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Mariah Amerine/via REUTERS

The plane with engine problems is seen on the tarmac in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., February 13, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Mariah Amerine/via REUTERS

United flight 1175, with more than 370 people on board including crew members, landed without incident at Honolulu International Airport, United Airlines Inc spokesman Charles Hobart said in an email.

Passengers brace during the plane landing in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., February 13, 2018 in this still image taken from a social media video. Mariah Amerine/via REUTERS

Passengers brace during the plane landing in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., February 13, 2018 in this still image taken from a social media video. Mariah Amerine/via REUTERS

“Scariest flight of my life,” Maria Falaschi, a marketing consultant from San Francisco, wrote on Twitter. She posted photos on the social media website of the aircraft’s engine with its covering, also known as the cowling, missing.

Hobart said he could not immediately say whether or not the engine on the Boeing 777 continued to function after the cowling came off.

The pilots of United flight 1175 declared an emergency due to a vibration in the right engine before the plane landed safely, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesman Ian Gregor said in an email. The FAA will investigate the incident.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles)

New York City’s JFK Airport temporarily closed due to snowstorm: FAA

People are seen in silhouette inside the Trans World Airlines Flight Center at John F. Kennedy Airport in the Queens borough of New York, October 18, 2015.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport was temporarily closed on Thursday due to heavy snow, ice and harsh winds in the area, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The airport, which suspended operations shortly before 11 a.m. local time (1600 GMT), was expected to reopen at 3 p.m. (200 GMT), FAA officials said.

(Reporting by Gina CherelusEditing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Whose sky is it anyway? U.S. drone case tests rights to air space

Drone flying over field

By Paola Totaro and Konstantin Kakaes

LONDON/WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When a small town American roofer took legal action against a neighbor for shooting down his drone, the local dispute sparked a case that could help shape the newest frontier of property rights law – who owns the air.

Drone owner David Boggs filed a claim for declaratory judgment and damages in the Federal Court after his neighbor William Merideth from Hillview in the southern state of Kentucky blasted his $1,800 drone with a shotgun in July last year.

Boggs argued to the District Court in Kentucky that the action was not justified as the drone was not trespassing nor invading anyone’s privacy, while Merideth – who dubs himself the “drone slayer” – said it was over his garden and his daughter.

After a year of counter argument, a decision on which court jurisdiction should hear the complaint is expected within weeks and this could set new precedents for U.S. law.

Experts are watching the case closely as the burgeoning drone industry, fueled both by hobbyists and commercial operators, highlights the lack of regulation governing lower altitude air space not just in the United States but globally.

“We are in an interesting time now when technology has surpassed the law,” said Boggs’ lawyer, James Mackler, a former Blackhawk pilot and partner at Frost Brown Todd and one of a handful of attorneys specializing in unmanned aircraft law.

“Operators need to know where they can fly and owners must know when they can reasonably expect privacy and be free of prying eyes,” said Mackler whose work involves advising both corporate and government clients planning commercial drone use.

The landmark case comes amid a sharp increase in the global market for drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, with research firm, Markets and Markets estimating an annual growth rate of 32 percent every year to a $5.6 billion industry by 2020.

RIGHTS ABOVE?

The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) forecasts about 2.5 million drones will be buzzing in U.S. skies by the end of 2016 – and that number will more than triple by 2020.

But with the global industry surging, all parties, including  Merideth, and Boggs’ lawyer, Mackler, agree the use of drones in lower air space urgently needs to be clarified and defined.

“To be honest with you, at the time I did what I did I was reacting as most homeowners would, protecting their property, their kids … I didn’t know who was operating the drone or for what purpose,” Merideth told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“In the end, I’m hoping that laws can be put into place to protect not just the home owner but the individual who owns the drone. They have rights too. It is a huge gray area and for now nobody knows what they are allowed to do.”

Mackler estimates about a drone a month is shot down in the United States as residents grapple with the legal confusion about what constitutes their property and their rights.

“What happens typically is that law enforcement doesn’t know what to do and civil suits are uncommon as most people don’t want to get involved due to the costs,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

Boggs’ complaint states that the drone was flying at about 200 feet (6o m) above ground level for around two minutes over  residential Bullitt County when it was blasted out of the sky.

The height at which the drone was flying is disputed as Merideth insists it was much lower – an integral part of the legal case because higher airspace used by commercial planes is clearly defined in law.

For now, there is no real agreement on who owns the air space below that height and there are also no rules that identify who has the right to say how it can be used.

The court challenge filed by Boggs in January shows Merideth’s defense for downing the drone hinged on his belief it may have been taking video or still images of his daughter.

When Boggs challenged his neighbor, Merideth warned him that not only was he was protecting his family’s rights but he was not to come any further.

Police were called and Merideth was charged with felony, wanton endangerment and criminal mischief but Kentucky District Court Judge Rebecca Ward last October dismissed the criminal charges, saying he “had a right to shoot at the aircraft”.

Boggs’ lawyer Mackler said the case is not about payment for  the damaged drone but about carving legally clear boundaries between unregulated lower air space and personal property.

If the case is heard in the District Court, he said, it will not be binding in other federal court jurisdictions but will be influential in other courts. However, if it is appealed and sent to a higher court, it could create a precedent for the country.

OPENING THE SKIES

Despite the lack of legal clarity over air space, the United States moved to free up the use of small drones on Aug. 30  by relaxing rules requiring drone operators to have a manned pilots license and specific FAA approval.

These have been replaced with a new class of FAA license which is much less onerous and less expensive, allowing the use of drones weighing less than 25 kgs for routine educational or commercial use such as power line and antenna inspections.

The rules stopped short of allowing package deliveries, as proposed by Amazon.com Inc, and currently drones can only be used in sight of the operator and not over people.

The FAA expects within a year 600,000 drones will be used commercially – up from 20,000 registered now for commercial use.

Anglo-American property law scholars trace the first principles of law for the air back more than 800 years to the Latin “cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelom et ad infernos”.

This effectively meant that earthly property ownership was deemed to include everything below land to the center of the earth and upwards in the sky to heaven.

But with the advent of commercial air travel this principle was laid to rest because property owners could not be considered as owners of the air thousands of feet above their homes if air travel was to prosper.

In the United States, the legal principles that emerged over the 20th century focused on nuisance: flights at great heights came to be permitted without regard to the rights of property owners, while low altitude flights, including take-offs and landings, had to factor in the impact on nearby property.

The most important case to define these principles in the United States involved the health of a farmer’s chickens.

Known as the ‘United States versus Causby,’ the challenge unfolded during World War II when noisy military aircraft started flying from the Greensboro-High Point Airfield and over Thomas Causby prosperous chicken farm near in North Carolina.

The constant roar of planes sent Causby’s 400 chickens into a frenzy and they stopped laying eggs, ruining his livelihood.

The farmer sued the Federal Government and both the lower courts and the Supreme Court found in his favor, stating that a landowner “owns at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land”. This has been a guiding principle of U.S. law for more than 70 years.

By 1958, Federal regulations evolved to clearly define navigable airspace to include everything that was 500 feet or more above ground level, along with “airspace needed to insure safety in take-off and landing of aircraft”.

The “ad coelum”, or to the sky, doctrine, “had no place in the modern world,” wrote Justice William Douglas in his Causby judgment in 1946, arguing there exists “public highway” in the sky which was part of the “public domain”.

Mackler said the current tensions over drones partly derived from the lack of clarity over the legality of their use.

“People have a visceral reaction to seeing a drone. Unmanned aircraft are something different, something they often don’t expect,” he said.

“But if you know that in advance that a drone is being used by your utility company to inspect the safety of the local power lines, you will be less fearful. Law and technology have always had this tension: it takes time, especially if it has to go through the courts. But it will work its way out.”

(Reporting by Paola Totaro, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

UPS backed Rwandan blood deliveries show drones’ promise

A Zipline delivery drone releases its payload midair during a flight demonstration at an undisclosed location in the San Francisco Bay

By Nick Carey

(Reuters) – International delivery company UPS is backing a start-up using drones in Rwanda to transport life-saving blood supplies and vaccines, underlining the wide potential for the unmanned aircraft and helping bring package delivery by drone to U.S. consumers a step closer.

U.S. companies are keen to use drones to cut delivery times and costs but hurdles range from smoothing communication between the autonomous robots and airplanes in America’s crowded airspace to ensuring battery safety and longevity.

As far back as 2013, online retailer Amazon said it was testing delivery using drones and Alphabet Inc’s Google has promised such a service by 2017. Leading retailer Walmart is also testing drones.

But UPS, Walmart, legal experts and consultants say overcoming U.S. regulatory hurdles and concerns over drone safety will require vast amounts of data from real-time use — with testing in the near-term limited to remote areas of the United States or in other countries.

UPS will provide a grant of $800,000 plus logistical support through the UPS Foundation to a partnership including Gavi, a group providing vaccines to poor countries, and robotics company Zipline International Inc for drone flights in Rwanda starting in August. The drones will deliver blood and vaccines to half the transfusion centers in the country of 11 million people, making deliveries 20 times faster than by land.

“Tens of thousands of hours of flight logged in an environment where it’s much easier” to operate will help make package delivery a reality in the United States, Zipline chief executive Keller Rinaudo told reporters at a presentation late last week.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has adopted a step-by-step approach to drones, will soon release finalized rules for small drone use that will most likely limit their use to within the “visual line-of-sight” of an operator or observer.

“If you’re looking for an economically-efficient way to deliver packages, you’d be better off using a bicycle,” said Ryan Calo, an assistant law professor at the University of Washington specializing in robotics.

“NIGHTMARE SCENARIO”

The hurdles to using drones to deliver packages to consumers include technology, communication, insurance and privacy.

Questions remain about battery life and safety, especially after lithium-ion battery problems resulted in a fire on board a parked Boeing 787 in Boston in 2013.

Safe communication between drones and with airplanes in America’s busy airspace is years away. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been working on a drone traffic management system and will pass its research to the FAA in 2019 for further testing.

In the push for autonomous cars and trucks, companies like Google and Daimler have turned to individual states such as Nevada, which has issued licenses for testing on its roads. But the FAA controls all U.S. airspace, so permits on a state-by-state basis will not suffice for drone testing.

“You really do have to make sure the FAA is in the boat and we are really focused on that piece of it more than anything,” said Mark Wallace, UPS’ senior vice president for global engineering. As part of its strategy, UPS has invested in Boston-based drone manufacturer CyPhy Works Inc.

UPS will focus on projects like Rwanda and testing drones in remote U.S. areas in the near-term, he added.

Walmart said last year it plans to test drones for package delivery.

The retailer is “more likely to start with short hops” in rural areas, spokesman Dan Toporek said. “It has to happen a step at a time, which will teach us, and will provide insights to the FAA and the public on ‘this is how it could work.'”

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. Google referred Reuters to previous statements that the company hopes to operate a delivery service by 2017.

Data from companies like No. 2 U.S. railroad BNSF, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc, could also prove valuable, said Logan Campbell, chief executive of drone consulting firm Aerotas. BNSF has an exemption from the FAA to operate drones out of the line of sight along its rail network.

Campbell said while drone manufacturers would like to see the FAA move faster, the “nightmare scenario” would be if a drone crashed into a manned aircraft.

“We have to get this right,” he said. “If we move too fast and there’s an accident, it could ruin the entire industry.”

(Additional reporting by Deborah Todd in San Francisco; editing by Stuart Grudgings.)

U.S. Senate Boosts Travel Security

Passengers make their way in a security checkpoint at the International JFK airport in New York

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans and Democrats in the Senate reached a deal on Thursday to boost travel security at airports in the aftermath of the Brussels attacks, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Under the deal, the source said, lawmakers agreed to amend a Federal Aviation Administration bill with provisions that would bolster the vetting of airport employees with access to secure areas and authorize the Transportation Security Administration to donate security equipment to foreign airports with direct flights to the United States.

The provisions would also order a new U.S. assessment of foreign cargo security programs, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Lawmakers and their aides were continuing to negotiate over other security items that could also be added, including federal grant money for training state and local law enforcement to respond to emergencies involving armed attacks, the source said.

The deal is being brokered by Senator John Thune of South Dakota, Republican chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and the panel’s top Democrat, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, the source said.

In coming days, the Senate is expected to vote on the FAA authorization bill, which would renew the aviation agency’s programs through September 2017.

The House of Representatives has been considering its own FAA legislation. That bill also calls for the privatization of the U.S. air traffic control system, a measure that is not in the Senate’s legislation.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)