Ethiopian Airlines: the analysis of black boxes will start in France


Relatives of victims crying at Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX accident site, Hama Quntushele, Ethiopia, March 13, 2019 (AFP / TONY KARUMBA)

The Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX black box analysis begins Friday in France to try to unravel the accident scenario in which 157 people died on Sunday.

The Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA), near Paris, will be responsible for reading the memory cards of flight recorders, said the French agency known for its expertise in the delicate investigation of airline accidents.

The BEA, which arrived on Thursday black boxes, was chosen by the Ethiopian authorities who lead the investigation of the accident.

Boeing had previously announced the suspension of deliveries of aircraft currently in production "until we find a solution". According to a spokesman, the American aircraft manufacturer will continue its production.

Boeing was still unable to say where these new planes would be kept.

And the spokesman rejected the possibility of reducing the rate of production or temporarily closing down the factories. Boeing currently produces 52 MAX a month and has expected to increase the production rate to 57 before the crisis, probably in June.

The US Aviation Agency (FAA) ordered Wednesday to temporarily halt "Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 in the United States in the wake of similar decisions by aviation safety authorities worldwide.

– The pilot's panic –


Workplace experts near Addis Ababa, March 13, 2019 (AFP / TONY KARUMBA)

Washington justified this choice with the collection of satellite "new data" provided by Canada, showing similarities between the tragedy of Ethiopian Airlines and that of Lion Air in October, in the trajectory of the planes that both crashed a few minutes after takeoff.

The "flight ban" will be maintained for further investigation, including the review of the information contained in "black boxes", said the FAA.

The incident in Ethiopia occurred less than five months after that of the Indonesian company Lion Air in the Java Sea, which killed 189 people.

The first black box contains the flight parameters, the second the cockpit conversations and the alarms that have been recorded until the accident.

The New York Times reported Thursday evening that Ethiopian Airlines' Boeing 737 MAX pilot had encountered an emergency immediately after take-off, demanding the return of a "panicked voice".

"Break, break, request back home", says the commander to the air traffic controllers, while trying to avoid two other flights approaching the airport, according to the American newspaper which is based on the statements of a person who had access to exchanges between crew and controllers.

The term "pause, pause" is used to prioritize a message, meaning that the crew is faced with an emergency situation that the pilots are not able to handle.

The company said on Sunday that the crew requested a return to Addis Abeba but this is the first time that the contents of the commander's messages with air control have been revealed.

Ethiopia turned to France because it did not have the equipment necessary to examine them. These boxes, equipped with the MAX, are like the aircrafts that equip the new generation and therefore require a great experience.

The US agency responsible for transport safety (NTSB) has sent three investigators to France to participate in the work, a usual procedure as it is an American manufacturer.

– Reassure passengers –


An employee of the French Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA) retrieves data on the flight parameters of a black box in the BEA laboratory at Le Bourget, near Paris, on 7 September 2018 (AFP / Archivi / ALAIN Jocard)

For the moment, nothing is filtered on whether or not to fully exploit these flight recorders while the head of US authorities Dan Elwell revealed Wednesday that they were "damaged" during their impact with the ground.

But the black boxes are designed to withstand extreme shocks, "which do not presume the integrity of the data they contain," said a former BEA official.

And if the data has been partially deleted, the BEA could contact the manufacturer of these recorders to reconstitute all or part of them.

Despite the decision to nail down the fleet of new aircraft on the ground, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg renewed his "total confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX" on Wednesday, stating that the decision, on the manufacturer's initiative, aims to reassure the public in general.

The flight ban should not seriously disturb global air traffic with around 370 aircraft in this family on about 19,000 aircraft of at least 100 passengers operating internationally, all models combined, according to Airbus data.

However, companies are facing a logistical headache to reorganize their flight schedule with other aircraft.

The Lion Air accident investigation has for the moment implied a malfunction of the flight stabilization system intended to prevent an aircraft stall, the "MCAS" (maneuvering characteristics enhancement system) .

Several American pilots reported at the end of 2018, on an anonymous NASA database, having dealt with a malfunction of this device.

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