The Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) has received the black box from the Boeing 737 Max plane crash, which saw all 157 passengers and crew of the Ethiopian Airlines flight killed shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa.
Depending on the condition of the box, the first readings from the voice recorder and flight data could take days. However, experts are already pointing to similarities between the Ethiopian Airlines flight and the fatal Lion Air crash in Indonesia, which happened six months apart.
As more evidence comes to light, fears are growing that the cause of both crashes is related to a software malfunction in the 737 aircrafts.
In both accidents, the crafts were newly delivered Boeing 737 Max 8, and the crashes occurred during takeoff. Satellite data and evidence from the crash site appear to link both disasters, with experts focusing on the 737’s automated anti-stall system, known as MCAS due to similar vertical variations in both incidents.
Experts postulate that malfunctioning sensor readings pushed the nose of the Lion Air craft downward and that the pilots appeared to be struggling with the system as they repeatedly attempted to right the plane by pulling the nose up, however, their efforts appeared to be overridden by MCAS.
The early evidence from the Ethiopian Airlines data shows a similar pattern, suggesting both planes suffered the same malfunction.
These similarities were concerning enough for countries such as the UK, China, India and Australia to move to ban the crafts. China, which has one of the world’s largest fleets of Boeing 737 Max 8s operating 97 planes was the first to ground all domestic jets, citing its principle of zero tolerance for safety hazards.
Before grounding the aircraft late on Wednesday, the FAA had asserted there was no just cause to ban the aircraft, this delay to take action has seen the FAA highly critisied. While other countries were quick to ground the craft, the US took four days for Boeing and the FAA to act.
However, Daniel Elwell, the acting administrator of the FAA said the delay was because the FAA had expected to have more flight data by this point, and that the process had been lengthened unexpectedly.
Since the Lion Air crash, Boeing has been working on a software fix for the 737 but this will take months to complete, according to the FAA.
The FAA has admitted that fresh evidence and newly refined satellite data prompted its decision to ground the 737 aircraft.
As a result of the decision, several US carriers have been forced to cancel some flights and rebook disrupted customers. The ban will remain in place indefinitely pending the outcome of the investigation.
Boeing said it supported the FAA’s decision, and had recommended to the FAA it temporarily suspend the global operations of all its 371 Max fleet. “We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution.
Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes; and it always will be,” said Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg in a statement. The company remains adamant that it has full confidence in the safety of its craft.
What is known about the crash, is that the Ethiopian Airline fell from the sky shortly after takeoff, and that one of the pilots reported flight control problems and asked to return to the base. Before the crash, the flight radar data showed the aircraft climbing erratically, with an unstable vertical airspeed.
The 737 Max, described as a short-haul workhorse, is one of Boeing’s best sellers and has become the fastest selling plane in history, with more than 5,000 orders placed, and more than 350 in service.
Naturally, this investigation could have serious implications for the US plane maker, Boeing’s shares have already taken a hit, wiping more than $25 billion off the company’s market value since the crash. Historically, Boeing has paid airlines if planes they own are grounded because of safety orders, which it did after its 787 Dreamliner jet was grounded in 2013. CEO of European discount carrier Norwegian Air said it would bill Boeing for the lost revenue from the grounding of its 18 jets.