Ethiopian jet’s data record deepens concern about 737 MAX safety procedures

Acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration Daniel Elwell and Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board Robert Sumwalt testify during a Senate Commerce Subcommittee

"Repetitive and commanded aircraft nose-down conditions are noticed in this preliminary investigation", Ethiopian Minister of Transport Dagmawit Moges told reporters during a news conference in Addis Ababa.

The preliminary report into the Lion Air disaster said the pilots lost control after grappling with the plane's Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) software, a new automated anti-stall feature that repeatedly lowered the nose of the aircraft based on faulty data from a sensor.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 plane belonging to Ethiopian Airlines en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi went down on March 10 shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa. Similarly, in October a year ago, a Boeing 737 MAX Lion Air flight crashed in Indonesia, claiming the lives of all 181 people on board.

But the U.S. Federation Aviation Administration (FAA), which faced harsh questioning last week at a congressional hearing regarding its oversight of Boeing, said it expected the plane maker to submit the proposed fix "over the coming weeks" after it undertakes additional work.

It's not yet known if the two crashes are linked, but suspicion has grown over MCAS, and sparked United States investigations into the certification process at Boeing.

"We urge caution against speculating and drawing conclusions on the findings prior to the release of the flight data and the preliminary report", the company said.

Boeing announced on Wednesday that it had developed software updates to "prevent erroneous data from causing MCAS activation".

The investigation has now turned towards how the MCAS system was initially disabled by pilots, in line with part of a cockpit checklist procedure, but then appeared to start working again before the jet plunged to the ground, sources said.

Pilots can temporarily switch off the MCAS and pull up, but if a false reading continues, a "tug of war" will ensue as the plane keeps nosediving.

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The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) is created to automatically lower the aircraft's nose if it detects a stall or loss of airspeed.

This was reportedly due to anti-stall software being re-engaged onboard, which pushed the plane downwards once the pilots turned it off.

In the wake of the crash in Ethiopia, all 737 MAX planes have been grounded worldwide.

Ethiopian investigators did not address that issue at Thursday's news conference, saying only that the pilots had done what they were supposed to.

In the days following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, airlines and aviation authorities around the world grounded the Max.

Col. Amdeye Ayalew Fenta of the Ethiopian Accident Investigation Bureau investigation later added that during takeoff, the AOA sensor was functioning normally.

One of the biggest questions investigators will look at is why, if the pilots followed Boeing's standard procedures to circumvent the flight control system, the incident ended in a crash.

According to Moges, 18 aviation and transport experts from the U.S., France and the European Union and others were involved in the investigation, and there was "no reservation on the report from anyone".

"Understanding the circumstances that contributed to the Ethiopian accident is critical to ensuring safe flight", Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Kevin McAllister said in a statement.

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