The pilots initially correctly followed Boeing’s emergency procedures to disengage the system but could not regain control of the aircraft, Ethiopia’s Minister of Transport, Dagmawit Moges, said. The plane crashed just six minutes after taking off.
“Much of the commentary that happened after the Lion Air accident and the Ethiopian accident pointed either directly or indirectly to a pilot error,” said Marcus Diamond, safety and technical manager at the Australian Federation of Air Pilots and a former 737 captain.
While the report could change in the coming months, the preliminary findings suggested that was not the case, he said, with attention now again turning to the way Boeing designed the new system and how the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved it.
The additional training material that Boeing released after the first MAX crash now appeared nothing more than “a Band-aid on a system that they really haven’t come to terms with”, Captain Diamond said.
“Any pilot’s view would be that you’ve always got to relapse back to the pilot’s decisions and control, rather than putting it in the hands of software,” he said.
Boeing said on Friday it was close to completing a software update for the MCAS system, which it expected to be certified and implemented on MAX aircraft worldwide “in the weeks ahead”.
More than 300 MAX jets have been grounded worldwide since the second crash. Singapore’s SilkAir and Fiji Airways were the only two airlines operating MAX aircraft in Australia.
But Virgin Australia has 40 MAX aircraft on order and was expecting the first two to be delivered in November and December. Virgin has said it would not introduce any MAX aircraft to its fleet “unless we are completely satisfied with its safety”.
With the exact timeframe for completion of the software update and re-certification of the aircraft uncertain, its deliveries may have to be pushed back.
The FAA has announced the formation of a technical review team “to ensure the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX”. Australian officials say they will conduct a thorough review, adding that it is still too early to know when the ban will be lifted.
It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it and we know how to do it.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg
“Given there is not yet any formal advice from the Ethiopian accident investigation it is too early to make judgments on when and how the aircraft type can safely re-enter service,” said Peter Gibson, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said in a video released online that the “erroneous activation of the MCAS function can add to what is already a high workload environment” for pilots, which would be rectified.
“It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it and we know how to do it,” he said.
“When the MAX returns to the skies with the software changes to the MCAS function, it will be among the safest airplanes ever to fly.”