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Preliminary ET302 investigation report due for next week

US exerts diplomatic pressure to influence investigation

The Ministry of Transport on Thursday disclosed that the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) is undertaking analysis on the contents of the black box data of ET302 in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aircraft accident investigation procedures.  

In a statement, the ministry said a group of experts drawn from the Accident Prevention and Investigation Bureau, US team led by National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), France’s Accident Investigation Agency (BEA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are analyzing the contents downloaded from the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Flight Data Recorder (FDR) recovered from Ethiopian Airlines B737-8 MAX aircraft that crashed on March 10 a few minutes after takeoff. “Preliminary report of the analysis will be released in line with ICAO’s accident reporting standard.”

Ethiopian Accident Investigation Bureau team returned from Paris with the critical data on Tuesday morning with Ethiopian Airlines.

Sources close to the investigation process told The Reporter that the ministry would issue the preliminary accident investigation report before end of next week.  

“The AIB is working day and night to complete the preliminary report,” sources said. According to sources, the Minister of Transport Dagmawit Moges will present the major findings of the investigation next week. “Based on the readings of the CVR and FDR we have confirmed that there are clear similarities between the Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines ET302 accidents,” they said. “The flight path, altitude, the flight time, and speed of the two B737-8 MAX aircraft are similar,” they added. 

In the wake of Ethiopian Airlines fatal aircraft accident the entire world – including the manufacturing country, the US – has grounded the B737-8 MAX due to pertinent flight safety concerns.

The Reporter has learnt that the US National Transportation Safety Board and Boeing have asked to be given the recordings of the CVR and FDR. Sources said that Ethiopian aviation authorities are so far reluctant to hand over a copy of the data. However, representatives of the NTSB and Boeing observed the recovery of the data by BEA in Paris.

Disgruntled US government officials are now exerting diplomatic pressure on Ethiopian authorities. Sources told The Reporter that the US Ambassador to Ethiopia, Michael Raynor, has been shuttling between the Ministry of Transport and the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority requesting Ethiopian authorities to confer the readings of the CVR and FDR, the critical data that would determine the cause of the accident. Ambassador Raynor reportedly expressed his discontent over the way the Ethiopian authorities are handling the matter to Minister Dagmawit.

“Ethiopian aviation authorities fear that the data could be manipulated once it got out of their hands. It is not only that they are requesting for data but they are also trying to influence the investigation process,” sources told The Reporter. According to the same sources, President Donald Trump has phoned Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) to deliberate on the investigation process. 

In a written response to The Reporter the US Embassy stated that in the wake of the tragic March 10 ET302 crash, the US government is working around the clock to support investigation efforts. “All parties, including the United States, share the same interest in understanding what happened and taking whatever corrective action is needed.  No one benefits from any other approach,” Amanda Jacobsen, Public Affairs Officer, said.  

“Consistent with internationally agreed standards and procedures, the Government of Ethiopia is leading the investigation of this tragic aviation accident, and we are cooperating fully.  Under International Civil Aviation Organization protocols, the United States – through the National Transportation Security Board – as the state of design and manufacture of the 737, participates in the investigation,” Jacobsen added.

The Reporter’s repeated attempts to speak to Dagmawit were not successful. 

At the heart of the controversy surrounding the B737-8 MAX is the anti-stall software dubbed MCAS, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System. To fit the MAX's larger, more fuel-efficient engines, Boeing had to redesign the way it mounts engines on the 737. This change disrupted the plane's center of gravity and caused the MAX to have a tendency to tip its nose upward during flight, increasing the likelihood of a stall. MCAS is designed to automatically counteract that tendency and point the nose of the plane downward.    

Investigators are wondering how FAA certified a malfunctioning anti-stall system, MCAS. FAA reportedly allowed Boeing to certify its products by itself. Industry observers claim that there is a cozy working relationship between Boeing and the federal aviation regulator, FAA that enabled Boeing to do self-certification.

The US Department of Justice is conducting a criminal investigation on the design, manufacturing and certification of the B737 MAX airplanes. The US Department of Transport has started a serious independent investigation on the B737 MAX airplane safety issue. The US Congress has also ordered for serious investigation on the controversial issue. 

Aviation experts are now requesting for an explanation as to how Boeing failed to inform regulators, operators and other stakeholders on the MCAS problems before the Lion Air Accident.