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Thursday, March 14, 2019

What’s the trouble with Boeing 737 Max planes? Here’s what we know


What’s the trouble with Boeing 737 Max planes? Here’s what we know

In the wake of Sunday’s fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash, many countries has suspended all Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 planes from their airspace. U.S. President Donald Trump additionally announced that the U.S. would ground the jets. Now, Boeing is facing a worldwide temporary ban on the late-model jets.

We have compiled answers to some questions surrounding the crash, the plane and what comes next.

What does “grounding” mean?

If a plane or flight has been grounded, it means that aircraft have been prevented from departing from or landing in a specific location. In this case, Garneau issued a safety notice restricting commercial passenger flights of the Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9. Any flights operating using those planes are not permitted to depart, land, or fly over Canadian airspace.

What countries have grounded the plane?

In total, 38 countries have grounded the plane — this includes Canada, the U.S., all 29 countries comprising the E.U., Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey and India.

What’s wrong with the plane?

While authorities have stated it felt it was “too soon” to speculate on the cause of the crash in Ethiopia, pilots have repeatedly flagged issues about the plane to U.S. authorities. At least five complaints were filed in the U.S., and involve an issue with the plane’s autopilot system, causing it to descend instead of gaining altitude. If the captain disconnected the autopilot, the plane would again climb. The same report also notes that pilots were concerned that the flight manual was “inadequate” and “almost criminally insufficient.”

A letter issued to the the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from the U.S Senate on Tuesday states that Boeing modified the flight control system in the 737. The Max 8 and 9 planes have larger engines than previous models, so a new computer program was added to the planes. The program, called MCAS, is meant to counter any destabilization caused by the large engines.

The letter to the FAA suggests that a sensor error may have caused Lion Air flight 610 — itself involved in a fatal crash — to pitch up and down in a way the pilot could not control. The letter argued that the FAA should ground all Max 8 and 9 planes until they can determine if the plane can be flown safely.

What happened to Lion Air flight 610 in October?

The flight, which was also a Boeing 737 Max 8 plane, crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta. The crash killed all 189 people on board, including eight crew members. A report on aviation-safety.net, a website from the Aviation Safety Network that tracks airline incidents, states that the plane had “several problems” in the days before the flight. The pilot reported a “flight control problem,” and stated they were flying the plane manually.

The investigation after the crash found that the pilot reported a “flight control problem,” and the plane had descended in altitude, dropping more than 60 metres in seconds. Air traffic control lost connection with the plane approximately 13 minutes after takeoff.

The 737 Max 8 plane involved in the Lion Air crash was added to the airline’s fleet on Aug. 18, 2018 — just over two months before the crash.

Despite apparent similarities between the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, Garneau stressed that it’s “too soon to speculate about the cause of the accident in Addis Ababa, and to make direct links to the Lion Air accident in Indonesia in October.”

How old is the 737 Max 8 plane?

The plane was first flown in 2016, and introduced into airline fleets beginning in May 2017. The plane is a reengineered version of the 737, and includes changes to the engine and aerodynamics. The plane operated in the Lion Air flight was new, having been delivered to the airline only two months prior to the crash.

The plane involved in Sunday’s crash in Addis Ababa was delivered to the airline in November, making it approximately four months old.

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