As a growing number of countries and airlines grounded the ill fated Boeing 737 Max 8 after 2 unusually similar crashes in which all passengers and crew died, the spotlight turned on the U.S. and Canada. Both countries initially expressed confidence in the safety of Boeing’s latest version of its popular aircraft but many people in North America showed the misgivings that were so strongly felt elsewhere in the world. It took several days before Boeing and the FAA took Canada’s lead and grounded all remaining Max 8 planes, citing new evidence from the crashed plane in Ethiopia.

What went wrong with the Max 8?

There have now been 2 fatal crashes of Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, the most recent, an Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed only 6 minutes after leaving Addis Ababa airport on route to Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya. Everyone was killed in this crash, 157 people, including 8 Americans. The circumstances surrounding what we know so far about the crash suggest that they were very similar to the first crash involving a Max 8, which was a Lion Air plane in Indonesia last year, in which 189 people were killed.

Both planes were new acquisitions with upgraded automatic flight control systems. Both planes appear to have crashed for the same reason. Apparently, the nose of the plane unexpectedly and suddenly pointed downwards. In each case, the pilot was recorded as manually attempting to force the plane to level off again, only for the pattern to repeat itself. It would appear that the crash in each case finally happened because the planes continued to dive and their stability couldn’t be restored.

Are experts certain yet why the two planes crashed?

No. Boeing said all along originally that their planes were safe. Some airlines, such as Air Canada and American Airlines, and aviation authorities in some countries, such as the U.S. FAA, initially expressed confidence in their safety. The Ethiopian Airlines plane’s black box, that records many details of the flight of the ill-fated airplane, is now under investigation. Boeing has stated that it will cooperate with the investigation, but this is now being handled by a French air safety organization.

Safety experts had expressed early concerns about the similarities in the way the crashes happened, but initially hadn’t ruled out other reasons such as pilot error, bird strike etc.

The investigation into the Lion Air crash suggested that the plane’s own anti-stall system was responsible for the action of the nose repeatedly diving, so this is presumably going to be the main target for investigators once the Ethiopian plane’s flight recordings are analyzed.

How many countries are involved in the Max 8 grounding?

350 Max 8s have already been delivered to airlines around the world out of over 5,000 that have been ordered.. After the Indonesian Lion Air crash, there was no official reaction from any country, but now one country after another has either temporarily or indefinitely grounded the aircraft that fly to or within those countries. The list includes:

  • Australia
  • Bermuda
  • Canada
  • China
  • Ethiopia
  • European Union
  • Fiji
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Kuwait
  • Malaysia
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Singapore
  • Turkey
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Vietnam

Boeing has now stopped all remaining orders until the aircraft is cleared on safety grounds.

How did Boeing and U.S. authorities respond?

The Max 8 is the latest version of the Boeing 737, a narrow bodied plane which has been around as a successful work horse for nearly 50 years. For Boeing it’s a big deal, because the company was relying on the sales of its new aircraft to match competition from Airbus. Whether the fact that Boeing is an American company made a difference here in the U.S., or not, is hard to say, but the official reaction at first seemed to be one of less caution than elsewhere. The U.S. became the last country to order all Max 8s and max 9s to halt operations until a full investigation was made.

Boeing says that they will cooperate fully with Ethiopian authorities in the investigation into the crash there. The FAA said after the Ethiopian crash that the planes were “airworthy,” but soon changed its mind after Canadian authorities grounded Max 8s in that country.

What made the FAA change its mind?

A piece of the crashed Ethiopian plane provided evidence from the position of the plane’s stabilizers that the new anti-stall device on the plane had somehow malfunctioned and caused the nose to tilt downwards unexpectedly. The evidence confirms that there were strong similarities with the Lion Air crash last year. The investigation is ongoing at this point.

Max 8 pilot concerns

There have been at least 5 reports to federal authorities about Max 8 pilot concerns about the plane’s anti stall mechanism. Pilots expressed their concerns between the two crashes, not long after the Lion Air crash, but apparently these were recorded by NASA, which is independent from the FAA. The concerns related to the pilots discomfort with the way the planes reacted to a loss in speed when the planes were rising at too sharp an angle. The automated system kicked in, according to the pilots, causing the nose to tilt downwards, as experienced in both the two planes that crashed.

The potential fall-out for Boeing

If investigations into the Ethiopian crash prove that there was a serious design flaw in the Max 8 then it will have a serious effect on Boeing. The company will be liable for a very large number of potential claims against it, with many millions of dollars involved. It is early days at the moment, but if the company is proven to have been at fault, then it may be another example of a product released too early because of the pursuit of profit in the face of competition.

While no Tennessee residents were known to have been involved in the Ethiopian plane crash, the fact remains that a very similar disaster could have easily taken place on U.S. soil. In the event that you, or a loved one has any kind of aircraft accident which is due to pilot error or design failure or component defect you should contact a dedicated aviation accident attorney at the Keith Williams Law Group as soon as possible here in Nashville.