The aircraft accident investigation interim report on the Ethiopian Airlines B737-8 MAX jetliner accident released on Monday by the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) highlighted major design flow with the aircraft that cost a heavy toll of life.
Flight ET302 that departed the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport on March 10, 2019 carrying 149 passengers en route to Nairobi Kenya crashed few minutes after takeoff killing 157 passenger and crew. As per the International Civil Aviation Authority Organization (ICAO) Annex 13, the AIB has been leading the accident investigations beginning the same day the accident occurred. AIB which is accountable to the Ministry of Transport is responsible for the investigations of aircraft accident and incidents in Ethiopia.
As per the ICAO Annex 13 the preliminary accident investigation report was released within 30 days after the accident occurred. The final report was supposed to be released within a year. However, as there are some remaining works the AIB was compelled to release an interim report on March9, 2020.
Aircraft accident investigation work includes five phases-factual data collection, interpretation, analysis, conclusion and safety recommendation. According to AIB the analysis is still in progress and would be incorporated in the final report which is expected to be issued after three months
The 130 page interim report highlighted the six minute flight, the technical glitches that led the brand new aircraft to plunge into the ground, the profiles of the flight crew, and the history of the aircraft among many other technical details.
“The sole objective of the investigation of an accident or incident shall be the prevention of accidents and incidents; it is not the purpose of this activity to apportion blame or liability’’.
AIB which is headed by Amdeye Ayalew Fenta (Co.) has Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) and Ethiopian Airlines as its technical advisors, the US national Transport Safety Board (NTSB) designated by the state of design and manufacture and the French firm BEA represents the state that provided expertise of Digital Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder read out.
The Accident was notified by the operator/ATC to the Accident Investigation Bureau the same day right after the accident occurred. The interim report indicated that Flight ET302 took off normal, however, shortly after lift off the left Angle of Attack (AOA) sensor recorded value became erroneous and the left stick shaker activated and remained active until near the end of the recording. According to the report the nose down trim was activated automatically leading the aircraft to perform un-commanded nose down movements. The pilots tried to pitch up the aircraft repeatedly for no avail.
The aircraft impacted a terrain South East of Addis Ababa in Ejere locality. The impact was so high that it created a hole with a width of 28 meters and 10 meters deep. All the occupants 157 people 2 flight crew, 5 cabin crew , one flight safety officer and 149 passengers perished in the accident.
The reported outlined the findings of the accidents investigations. The reported stated that the aircraft has a valid certificate of airworthiness and maintained in accordance with applicable regulations and procedures. “There were no known technical problems before departure,” it said.
The report indicated that the difference training from B737 NG to B737 MAX provided by the manufacturer was found to be inadequate. According to the report the AOA Disagree message did not appear on the accident aircraft as per the design described on the flight crew operation manual. The reported stated that the flight control software (MCAS) design on single AOA inputs made it vulnerable to undesired activation.
In the safety recommendations the report indicated that the design of MCAS should consider the use of data from both AOA and/or other independent systems for redundancy. “The difference training should also include simulator sessions to familiarize with normal and non-normal MCAS operation. The Training simulators need to be capable of simulating AOA failure scenarios,” it said.
In related news Ethiopian Airlines has revealed that it has not made a decision on the fate its B737MAX fleet. The airline has not yet made a decision if it will ever fly the MAX plane and if it will take delivery of the MAX fleet which are on order.
Speaking of the first anniversary of the accident Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said his airline did not yet make a decision whether or not it will fly the MAX plane or should it go back to its MAX orders. “We have not yet made that decision. That decision is not easy for us to make right now. The MAX has problem and it is grounded for almost a year now. It has not been clearly decided or known when it is going to be back to the air,” Tewolde said. “We are discussing with Boeing and as an airline which unfortunately happened to be with the accident our situation is different from other airlines which have MAX airplanes grounded. When Boeing decided to return the aircraft to service, we will make our own assessment. Will we be able to convince our crew, our pilots and our customers and how long it will take us and those kind of questions will be answered at that time. At this moment we are waiting for the final decision. It will take some time before we make any decision. We have to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that this airplane is good to fly back.”
Ethiopian Airlines placed firm order for 20 B737 MAX aircraft and took delivery of the first five. One was destroyed in the accident and the remaining four are grounded since the accident. Fifteen B737 MAX are still in the order book. Boeing delivered the first B737 MAX aircraft to Ethiopian in June 2018. The brand new aircraft that was lost in the accident (Registered ET-AVJ) was delivered to Ethiopian in November 2018.
The accident victims’ families and colleagues, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) which lost 20 of its staff members in the accident, the Airline Pilots Association (Ethiopia) and Ethiopian Airlines observed the first anniversary of the accident on Tuesday March 10, 2020 with various commemoration programs in Addis Ababa and the crash site.