In March this year, aviation regulators and airlines around the world grounded the Boeing 737 MAX narrow-body passenger airliner after two crashed in just five months, killing 346 people. In October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 nosedived into the Java Sea, 12 minutes after takeoff, and in March 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 struck the town of Bishoftu six minutes after taking off. Evidence suggested that the new Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) repeatedly pushed the nose of the jet down on both of the flights, driven by incorrect Angle of Attack (AoA) data from a defective sensor.
Boeing refutes the claims, suggesting MCAS was just one of the contributing factors in a “chain of events” that lead to the disasters.
It has been suggested that pilots were unaware of how to override this system, which was not previously used on old 737 models, yet Boeing claim it was documented in the Flight Crew Operations Manual under the Non-Normal Checklist for Runway Stabilisation.
Despite this, the BBC Panorama investigation claimed the system put lives at risk.
Investigative journalist Richard Bilton said on Monday: “5,000 [737s] were ordered, but the plane had a design problem.
In October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 nosedived into the Java Sea, (Image: WIKI)
In March 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 struck the town of Bishoftu (Image: GETTY)
Every day, thousands of passengers were boarding a plane with a deadly flaw
“The new bigger engines made the plane tilt upwards.
“The new software – MCAS – used a single sensor to work the angle the plane was flying at.
“If it was flying too steeply, MCAS automatically moved the tail.
“But the system had a fatal flaw – if the single sensor wasn’t working properly then MCAS could force the plane downwards, even though it was on the correct course.”
In April 2019, Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg said MCAS may have caused a problem, but emphasised that it was not to blame for the loss of life.
In a statement, he wrote: “The history of our industry shows most accidents are caused by a chain of events.
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Richard Bilton presented a BBC Panorama investigation (Image: BBC)
“This again is the case here, and we know we can break one of those chain links in these two accidents.
“As pilots have told us, erroneous activation of the MCAS function can add to what is already a high workload environment.
“It's our responsibility to eliminate this risk, we own it and we know how to do it.”
He went on to reveal Boeing is working to make sure the same accidents cannot happen again.
He added: “From the days immediately following the Lion Air accident, we've had teams of our top engineers and technical experts working tirelessly in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration and our customers to finalise and implement a software update that will ensure accidents like that of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 never happen again.
“We're taking a comprehensive, disciplined approach, and taking the time, to get the software update right.
The Boeing 737 MAX has been branded dangerous by BBC Panoram (Image: GETTY)
Dennis Muilenburg said MCAS was just one part of a "chain of events" (Image: GETTY)
“We regret the impact the grounding has had on our airline customers and their passengers.
“This update, along with the associated training and additional educational materials that pilots want in the wake of these accidents, will eliminate the possibility of unintended MCAS activation and prevent an MCAS-related accident from ever happening again.”
Mr Bilton spoke to pilots during his BBC programme, who claimed they were not informed about the new system.
Dennis Tajer from the Allied Pilots Association