Flight recorder data recovered from the wreckage of Boeing 737 MAX planes that crashed in Ethiopia and Indonesia shows “clear similarities,” Addis Ababa said on Sunday as the US maker announced that it is finalizing a software update for its controversial anti-stall system.
Meanwhile, pressure was mounting on the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which insisted that it had followed standard procedures in certifying the plane model, even as it was reported to have come under investigation by the US Department of Transportation.
“The 737 MAX certification program followed the FAA’s standard certification process,” the agency said in an e-mail to reporters.
It said its procedures were “well established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs.”
However, reported similarities between the March 10 crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, killing all 157 on board, and the Lion Air crash in October last year of the same model of airplane in Indonesia, leaving 189 dead, have raised serious doubts and triggered Boeing’s biggest crisis in decades.
The 737 MAX is a relatively new aircraft, having entered service only in May 2017 as Boeing’s answer to Airbus’ medium-haul A320 Neo.
Ethiopian Minister of Transportation Dagmawit Moges on Sunday said that a study of the flight data recorder retrieved from the Ethiopian plane had shown “clear similarities” to that of the Lion Air flight in Indonesia.
The parallels would be the “subject of further study,” she said.
As investigators continue their work, preliminary findings in the Lion crash have focused on a possible malfunction of an anti-stall system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
Boeing developed that system because of the unusually forward placement of the plane’s engines, which could make it more likely to experience an aerodynamic stall under certain conditions.
The manufacturer on Sunday said that it was close to releasing a long-awaited software patch to the system.
“While investigators continue to work to establish definitive conclusions, Boeing is finalizing its development of a previously-announced software update and pilot training revision that will address the MCAS flight control law’s behavior in response to erroneous sensor inputs,” Boeing president and CEO Dennis Muilenburg said.
Experts have questioned the FAA’s certification process after learning that US pilots had lodged serious complaints about the system.
A Wall Street Journal report on Sunday quoted sources as saying that the FAA had come under an “unusual inquiry” by the Transportation Department over the issue, and has warned officials to safeguard computer files
The newspaper said that the probe would zero in on FAA offices near Seattle, Washington, close to where Boeing airplanes are built.
The Seattle Times on Sunday reported that the FAA had delegated part of the certification process for the plane — including the MCAS — to Boeing engineers.
The original safety analysis provided to the FAA by Boeing contained “several crucial flaws,” the newspaper said, adding that the process was carried out hastily, as Boeing struggled to catch up with Airbus’s more advanced work on the A320 Neo.
The report was dated 11 days before the Ethiopian Airlines accident, the newspaper reported.
The FAA on Sunday refused to comment on the newspaper reports, noting that the various investigations still under way.
In the face of budget cuts, the FAA has since 2009 delegated some certification work to aircraft manufacturers or to outside experts, a procedure known as Organization Designation Authorization.
On Sunday, the agency defended its practice, saying that the 737 MAX had to pass multiple tests and reviews before being authorized to fly.
Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House of Representatives’ transportation and infrastructure committee, is planning to launch an investigation into the 737 MAX’s certification, congressional sources said.
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