Aviation

Boeing 737 MAX mid-air emergencies revealed in new investigation

New claims about the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, which was grounded internationally in 2019 after two deadly crashes, were revealed in an investigation of the manufacturer.

The investigation was by the ABC and it revealed that after the two crashes in 2018 and 2019, which saw 346 dead and caused the plane to be grounded, pilots around the world reported at least six different times when mid-air emergencies occurred.

The incidents are part of more than 60 issues faced by pilots when operating the aircraft over the 12 months following the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave clearance for the plane to fly again.

The ABC revealed in its report, which pulled data from the US government air safety databases, that former employees of Boeing and the FAA highlighted cases that included engine shutdowns and pilots losing some control of the plane.

Documents revealed that one United Airlines pilot had to call mayday after the system controlling the altitude and pitch of the plane began malfunctioning.

The ABC reported on another incident where a plane had “multiple systems failure” and lost altitude as the nose of the aircraft tipped downward and speed increased.

A Boeing spokesperson said that the revealed incident had no connection or trend to each other.

“In fact, the in-service reliability of the 737 MAX is consistent with other commercial airplane models,” the spokeswoman told the ABC.

“Since November 2020, the 737 MAX has flown more than 1.5 million flight hours in more than 580,000 revenue flights. The overwhelming majority of these flights have been conducted without any incident.”

The planes involved in both crashes were less than four months old.

Investigations into both incidents suggested a malfunction caused by the MAX’s flight control software system, MCAS, was at fault.

News.com.au reported that investigators said the MCAS was activated by a faulty reading from the aircraft sensor which repeatedly pushed the planes’ nose downwards and the pilots couldn’t regain control.

“The crew performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer but was not able to control the aircraft,” Ethiopia’s Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges said as she delivered the official report of the 2019 crash.

“Despite all their hard work and full compliance with emergency procedures, it was very unfortunate that they could not recover the airplane from the persistence [of] nosediving,” the airline’s statement on Twitter said.

737 MAX 8’s around the world were grounded following the 2019 crash as a precaution.

Since the global grounding air safety reviews were carried out by the US Department of Justice.

The manufacturer was forced to pay USD$2.5 billion (AUD$3.5 billion) in fines and compensation after a guilty verdict was given for misleading regulators about the planes safety.

“Boeing’s employees chose the path of profit over candour,” said David Burns, acting assistant lawyer general for the Justice Department’s criminal division in January 2021.

Boeing since changed the MCAS so that it always uses two sensors and is easier for pilots to override if a downward motion occurs again.


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