A Tragedy for Both Ethiopian Airlines and Boeing

By: Chandrea Baster

Airline disasters are uncommon. The phrase, “you’re more likely to die in a car accident than a plane crash” is often circulated amongst individuals shortly after the news of a recent plane crash hits the headlines. Thousands of planes fly each day without any complications and pilots are often equipped with the skills necessary to fix any problem that does arise. Based on National Safety Council data, the chance of dying in an air and space accident is 1 in 9,821. Unfortunately, it is inevitable that some disasters will occur on occasion. On March 10, 2019, for example, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 en route to Nairobi, Kenya crashed just six minutes after takeoff near the town of Bishoftu, Ethiopia.

It is clear that the pilots encountered technical difficulties early on, as they sent a distress signal and request to turn back for landing just minutes after takeoff. Unfortunately, the plane crashed before they could return, killing all 157 people on board. As investigators scramble to find information about this doomed flight, families around the world are mourning the loss of the victims. The individuals who died in this crash came from over 30 different countries. There were many renowned victims on board, some of which were United Nations employees that were heading to a conference in Kenya. In addition, there were many other professionals, diplomats, and entrepreneurs on board. It is accurate to state that this is truly a worldwide disaster impacting individuals across the globe.

It is generally accepted that the most dangerous parts of a flight are the first few minutes during takeoff and the last few minutes prior to landing. At the beginning of the investigation, officials determined that the Ethiopian airlines crash could have been attributed to pilot error, technical problems, or terrorism.  The “black box” data was recovered shortly after the crash and was analyzed in France. A preliminary report released by investigators states that while the pilots followed all of the necessary emergency procedures, they did not have the capability to attain control of the aircraft. This report concluded that the issue stemmed from MCAS, a “new flight control system that the American aviation giant installed on the Max series of jets.” Investigators believe that the false data was transmitted from one of the external sensors, triggering the MCAS system and pushing the nose of the plane down. This action is triggered if the system believes the plane is climbing too steeply.  

This crash has stark similarities to the Lion Air plane crash that occurred in October, killing all 189 people on board. First, both planes were the model Boeing 737 Max 8, which has stirred confusion and fear among frequent and infrequent flyers alike. The second fatal disaster of this specific Boeing model in just five months has forced all regular airline company users to ground these planes, in fear of yet another disaster. Individuals are grateful for this move by large airlines, as they believe that safety is a priority and feel that the best move forward is to ground the planes while Boeing assesses the causes, and possible relations, between these two crashes.

Another similarity between the two crashes is that both pilots realized that there was a problem early on and send a distress call to the airport. Additionally, both planes crashed  just minutes after take off. Both planes also seemed to have issues with acceleration and problems with climbing at a steady rate, probably due to a malfunctioning of the MCAS system.

The safety of the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes has undoubtedly come into question. Although it may take time to determine what caused such a horrendous event, it is clear that the similarities between the two crashes are uncanny. It is of utmost importance that the causes of both crashes are determined and eventually released to the public, and hopefully in a timely manner. Such information will hopefully allow for the families of the victims to find comfort and peace in knowing what happened on both of those flights. Furthermore, it is necessary that Boeing instills pilots with the proper training techniques and technical equipment to prevent similar disasters from happening again in the future.  

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