Ethiopia Plans Only Interim Max Report as Probe Continues

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(Bloomberg) -- An interim report into the deadly Boeing Co. 737 Max crash in Ethiopia that led to the grounding of the U.S. company’s top-selling model is set to be released in time for the first anniversary of the tragedy.

The report will be published by March 10, Ethiopian Transport Ministry spokesman Musie Yehyies told Bloomberg on Friday. The decision not to release full findings, as targeted by the United Nations within a year of a crash, means it’s not clear how far the statement will go in reaching conclusions that might be damaging to Boeing, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration or the flight’s operator, Ethiopian Airlines.

“We have a lot of data to analyze, we still have a lot of investigation to do,” Amdye Ayalew, Ethiopia’s chief crash investigator, said by telephone. With the interim statement, “we will inform the public on where we are with the investigation.”

Ethiopia has built aviation into a major industry, becoming a hub for flights across Africa in the process. That’s made the crash probe especially sensitive for a developing country seeking to uphold the standing of its national carrier. Boeing, too, risks a setback in its campaign to restore a reputation tarnished by safety lapses uncovered in the aftermath of the Ethiopian disaster and an earlier one involving Indonesia’s Lion Air.

Ethiopia Plans Only Interim Max Report as Probe Continues

Five months apart, the two crashes killed 346 people in total. Within days of the Ethiopian disaster, airline safety agencies across the globe discarded the long-held practice of following the lead of the FAA, the main certifying body for the 737 Max, and grounded the plane. The U.S. agency, once considered the gold standard in airline safety, still hasn’t recovered, and the jet has yet to be allowed back into service.

The interim statement will build on a preliminary crash report released 3 1/2 weeks after the Ethiopian crash, and eventually be supplanted by a final report. In the first accounting, investigators found the pilots were confronted by a cascade of malfunctions and alarms, seconds after the flight left Addis Ababa. Most critically, a software system linked to the earlier Lion Air crash began pushing the nose of the jet down less than two minutes into the flight due to a malfunctioning sensor.

MCAS Software

Investigators in Indonesia identified sweeping problems and missteps four months ago when they released a final report on the October 2018 Lion Air crash, citing issues including Boeing design flaws and certification failures by the FAA.

Boeing has been working on safety fixes for the Max’s flight-control system, particularly the so-called MCAS software, in order to gain re-certification for the plane. After months of delays it now expects the airliner to return to service mid-year.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, an agency of the UN, requires crash experts to publish a final report within 12 months if possible. If that’s unrealistic, the investigating state must provide interim statements on each anniversary of the accident, detailing progress and safety issues raised.

Amdye said Ethiopia is following a “totally legal procedure” and that some crash probes have taken four years.

The final report on the June 2009 loss of an Air France jet in the mid-Atlantic was published in July 2012, while a final inconclusive release on the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, presumed lost in the Indian Ocean in March 2014, took four years four months.

The preliminary report from Ethiopia last year found that the 737 Max’s crew was able to climb as high as 13,400 feet and request permission to return to the airport after temporarily disabling part of the system. But the pilots struggled to control the plane, which entered a steep dive reaching speeds of 575 miles per hour before crashing into a field, killing all 157 people on board.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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