Flight data recorders of a convicted flight of Ethiopian Airlines arrived on Thursday for analysis in France. Frustrated relatives of the 157 killed stormed out of a meeting with airline officials in Addis Ababa.
The crash on Sunday was the second deadly flight for a Boeing 737 Max 8 in less than six months. In the meantime, more than 40 countries, including the US, have anchored aircraft or refused to let them into their airspace.
After several days on Wednesday, the US Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency decommissioning order with new satellite data and evidence that the movements of the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft were similar to those of the Lion Air Flight 610 crashed off Indonesia in the Java Sea in October. It killed 189 people.
Lion Air officials said sensors on their plane had produced false information on their last four flights, triggering an automatic lowering command that pilots could not overcome on their last trip.
Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said his pilots had been specially trained to deal with this problem.
"In addition to the basic training for 737 aircraft types, additional training was provided for the Max version," Tewolde said. "Questions were raised after the Lion Air crash, and Boeing sent further instructions the pilots should know."
Tewolde said he was confident that the investigation would reveal that the crash was not related to the safety record of Ethiopian Airlines, which is widely regarded as the best managed in Africa.
Fixed answers to the cause of the crash could take months. The French Aircraft Accident Investigation Agency, known by its French acronym BEA, said on Thursday that it will undertake the analysis of the flight data recorders, often referred to as the black box, which are retrieved from the crash site.
The BEA has experience with global aircraft crashes and its expertise is often sought in crashes of an Airbus aircraft, as the manufacturer is based in France. A BEA official told The Associated Press that the recorders had already arrived in France, but did not specify a timeframe for how long the analysis could take.
In Addis Ababa, some 200 angry family members of fall victims left a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines officials and said the airline had not provided them with adequate information. Officials said they opened a call-in center open 18 hours a day to answer questions, but family members said they did not get the answers they needed. People from 35 countries died.
The crash scene in Hejere, some 50 km from Addis Ababa, saw more and more family members arrive, some moaning or beating their breasts as a bulldozer navigated a pile of debris. Blue plastic wrap covered the debris of the plane.
The 737 Max should boost Boeing's assets for years to come, but the reasons will have far-reaching financial implications for Boeing, at least in the short term, said John Cox, an experienced pilot and CEO of Safety Operating Systems.
In addition to the ground-based aircraft, there are more than 4,600 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft that have not yet been delivered to airlines.
"There are delivery deadlines that are not being met, the aircraft is not being complied with, and all the supply chain things Boeing has so carefully developed," said Cox. "If they can not deliver the planes, where do they put in the extra engines and the extra hull and additional electrical components?"
Affected airlines could also knock on Boeing and claim damages. Norwegian Airlines said it would seek Boeing's reimbursement for lost business, and if other airlines follow suit, it could be costly. Whether airlines with such claims could succeed depends on the details of the contracts that the airlines have signed with Boeing, said Dan Rose, a partner at Kreindler & Kreindler, an aviation law firm.
"In one way or another, whether there is a contractual provision that covers it or not, there will most likely be claims against it," said Rose.
The US Federal Aviation Administration was under intense pressure to crush the planes, and also resisted after Canada gave in on Wednesday, and agreed to blow Max out of the air, almost causing the US were left alone.
The agency, which is proud to make data-driven decisions, had claimed there was nothing to prove that the Boeing jets were unsafe and the flights continued.
However, President Donald Trump, who announced the groundwork, was briefed by Elwell and Transport Secretary Elaine Chao on the same day about the new developments, and they decided that the planes should be grounded, the White House said. Trump then spoke with Boeing boss Dennis Muilenberg and Boeing signed.
"At the end of the day, it's a decision that has the full backing of the Secretary, the President and the FAA as an agency," said Elwell.
Boeing made a statement saying that it supports the FAA's decision, even though it "still has full confidence in the safety of the aircraft."
The company also stated that it had recommended, after consultations with the government, the suspension of the Max fleet.
US airlines, especially Southwest, American and United, should be able to swap planes quickly, and passengers should not be uncomfortable, said Paul Hudson, president of flyersrights.org, who represents the passengers. The Max is only a small percentage of the US passenger aircraft fleet.
"I think all disturbances will be very small," he said.
In other countries where Max was grounded, no major disturbances were reported.
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