Pending further investigation, Boeing Max planes grounded

Derek Swanson, News Editor

Following the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people, the United States and other countries have ordered all Boeing 737 Max 8 planes to be grounded, pending further investigation. The decision came after data recovered from the black box, a device that records flight information and can be accessed after a crash, showed striking similarities between the Ethiopian Airlines disaster and the Lion Air crash that took place in October 2018. The Lion Air crash resulted in the deaths of all 189 people aboard.

Both the Ethiopian and Lion Air crashes involved the Max 8 planes. Boeing released the Max 8 in 2017 as an updated version of the previous 737. The new planes include all new software, which experts are looking into as the possible cause of the crashes.

Data recovered from both flights shows that the planes altitude fluctuated sharply before the time of the crash, indicating the pilots were struggling to retain control of the aircraft. In light of the new data, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered all of the Max 8 planes to be grounded until the exact cause could be determined. The FAA had previously stated their confidence in the planes, but under increasing pressure from other countries, and the new data that surfaced, they too agreed to ground the planes. Boeing Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg announced his support of the investigation, and released a statement detailing a software update that would be installed to the planes “in response to erroneous sensor inputs.” 

“We can agree that this crash could have been avoided,” said a sophomore aviation mechanics major. The student requested to remain anonymous, as they do not have a direct hand in the investigation. The Lewis department of Aviation declined to comment for this piece.

“Being a newer airplane, the Boeing 737 max is loaded with electronics and software that (likely) caused the fault. Developers must feel comfortable with their software and run several tests before potentially harming people in future flights,” said the student.

One of those new electronic systems, the MCAS system, has come under scrutiny by investigators and could be one of the leading factors responsible for the crash. The system was put in to the new planes to help avoid mid-air stalls, but a flaw in the system could cause the plane to nosedive, which would account for the erratic flight patterns seen between the Ethiopian and Lion Air flights before their crashes.

“The 737 max is a beautiful plane, but countries grounding this aircraft temporarily is the best option in terms of keeping people safe, considering there’s been two crashes with the same airplane within six months,” said the student.

Though their chairman and CEO supports the FAA investigation of the planes, Boeing has taken a major hit in recent weeks. At the time of the crash, over 300 Max 8 planes were in operation worldwide, with nearly 5,000 more on backorder. The plane was set to be the new industry standard, with each plane having a sticker price of $121 Million. After experiencing two crashes in the past six months, with a death toll of 306 between the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights, the Max 8’s systems will need a serious overhaul before it is back up in the air.

A funeral service for the victims of the crash was held in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, where 17 caskets draped with the Ethiopian flag were carried through the streets. All of the caskets were empty, as the bodies of the victims were indistinguishable from the wreckage of the crash at the time of the service.