Crash of Flight 302 Damages the U.S.’ Perception as a Transportation Safety Giant
In light of the recent and tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines’ flight 302 on March 18, decisions worldwide to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8 model have alienated United States aviation safety experts from the global transportation safety community. Just two days after 157 people were killed en route to Nairobi, over 30 nations and airlines took the 737 Max out of commission until further notice, reports Insider. The United States, in drastic conflict with its reputation as the leading airline safety authority, was not initially one of the nations to ground the plane.
World leaders including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May, and French President Emmanuel Macron have all offered their condolences following the reports of the crash. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres also tweeted to offer his sympathies for the victims, including “our own UN staff,” according to BBC News.
The number of United Nations faculty members killed in the crash was confirmed later to be at least 21, reports Insider. Flight 302 passengers were individuals hailing from 35 nations, including 8 U.S. citizens.
The major reason for international concern regarding the relatively new Boeing model is that there have been too many unexpected crashes, including the 2018 crash of Lion Air flight 610. In both instances, the aircrafts were 737 Max 8. According to CNBC, Ethiopian transport ministry spokesman Muse Yiheyis reports that black box data demonstrated “clear similarities between the two crashes.”
In the case of flight 610, the new stall protection software featured in the 737 Max reacted to a possible stall of the aircraft and forced the nose downward, the standard procedure for a stalled aircraft. However, unable to force the nose back up once the issue had resolved, Lion Air 610 crashed in the Java Sea, killing all 189 people aboard.
However, details of the exact cause of the Ethiopian Airlines crash are not yet confirmed. Air traffic monitors reported that “unstable vertical velocity” was exhibited by flight 302 shortly after take-off.
The uncertainty regarding the nature of the recent crash and the lack of previously noted technical failure of the aircraft ought to be the basis on which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rested their reluctance to ground the planes in the United States. Instead, President Donald Trump made the decision to ground the 737 Max when the U.S. aviation regulator defended the Boeing model. Criticism swiftly followed the FAA’s inaction.
According to Fox News, a flight attendant union called the Association of Flight Attendants, said that many of its members have elected not to work aboard any 737 Max flight. While choosing not to ground the 737 Max, U.S. airlines such as American and Southwest, have lost thousands of dollars refunding tickets for flights on the model. Boeing itself experienced a 10 percent drop in shares.
Recently, the FAA announced that it will also bar the 737 Max from the air. Acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell says the decision was not influenced by pressure from the international community. Instead, he asserts that the FAA was “resolute in [the] decision that we would not take action until we had data to support taking action. That data coalesced today and we made the call.” The FAA also confirmed Boeing’s statement that the stall correction software is undergoing revision.
It is this reoccupation with data that garners FAA suspicion. When faced with the question in the immediate aftermath of the crash, Elwell confirmed that the FAA is an organization that is based on data and facts. For this reason they would not make an official statement regarding the model before being sure about the exact cause of the crash of flight 302. Until that time, U.S. aviation authorities received condemnation of their own, and were accused of taking the safety of U.S. citizens lightly.
Beyond damaging the perception of the United States as a transportation safety giant, more basis for backlash faced by the FAA can be found when analyzing the events of the Lion Air crash. Upon the introduction of 737 Max aircraft to their fleets, pilots of American Airlines and Lion Air only received a 56 minute training session on an iPad simulation, according to Yahoo News. After the Lion Air incident, many pilots with experience flying the same model reported having no knowledge of the aircraft’s system.
In April 2017, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg commented that the Trump administration’s deregulation of certain safety certification processes was “helping us more efficiently work through certification on some of our new model aircraft, such as the Max,” as stated by CNBC. These roll backs must be investigated after the two tragedies that have resulted from 737 Max planes.