Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Safety features must be Boeing’s top priority

Ethiopian authorities have said that faults led to second 737 Max 8 crash in five months

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are parked on the tarmac after being grounded, at the Southern California Logistics Airport. AFP
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are parked on the tarmac after being grounded, at the Southern California Logistics Airport. AFP

From driverless cars to aviation, the growing use of technology in transportation is meant to improve people’s daily lives and enhance their travel experience. But after the crash of two Boeing 737 Max 8 aeroplanes, just five months apart, killing 346 people, the world is waking up to the potential negative consequences of such systems.

Evidence suggests that both the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air tragedies are linked to the aircraft’s flight-control mechanism, known as the MCAS. Its software was designed to dip the aircraft’s nose, so as to prevent its powerful engines from causing a stall in mid-air. It has been reported that when it launched the 737 Max range of aeroplanes, Boeing failed to inform aviators of the existence of this system. This meant that pilots on Lion Air flight 610 could not override the system, leading the plane to plunge into the Java Sea, killing 189 people. After the Ethiopian Airlines disaster last month, which claimed 157 lives, some suggested a lack of pilot training could be to blame.

But this idea has been overturned in a preliminary report released by Ethiopian Transport Minister Dagmawit Mogeson on Thursday. The document indicates that Ethiopian Airlines pilots had failed to stop the crash even though they followed the proper procedures to counter the malfunctioning MCAS. Now, it appears that pilot training is not enough to prevent deadly accidents and that the technology itself must be radically improved.

Boeing is taking steps to temporarily slow down production of its 737 Max series from 52 to 42 planes per month. But the company has stopped short of halting their manufacture altogether – even though planes of this type have been indefinitely grounded, globally, for nearly four weeks. Ethiopian Airlines has said that the investigation into the crash could take up to a year, as more authorities, including the UAE, join the Federal Aviation Administration investigation board.

In the meantime, Boeing must ensure the safety of its aircraft, including those in the 737 Max series it is currently manufacturing, before they take to the skies again. These incidents have, understandably, taken a toll on passenger confidence. After all, it took two mass fatalities for the faulty planes to finally be taken out of operation.

On Friday, Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg said that he asked directors to establish a committee to review “company-wide policies and processes for the design and development of the aeroplanes we build”. These incidents have eroded public trust, and the company is aware it must act fast if this is to be regained. While we have all become used to travelling increasingly cheaply, it is worth remembering that flying people around the world is a complex and expensive business, and that corners must not be cut when it comes to safety.

Updated: April 6, 2019 06:51 PM