Boeing defends ‘fundamental safety’ of 737 MAX after crash report

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg on April 4, 2019 said the company remained confident in the "fundamental safety" of its 737 MAX aircraft, which has been grounded worldwide following two deadly accidents. (AFP / Ben Stansall)
Updated 05 April 2019
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Boeing defends ‘fundamental safety’ of 737 MAX after crash report

WASHINGTON: Embattled US aviation giant Boeing on Thursday insisted on the “fundamental safety” of its 737 MAX aircraft but pledged to take all necessary steps to ensure the jets’ airworthiness.
The statements came hours after Ethiopian officials said pilots of a doomed plane had crashed last month after following the company’s recommendations, leaving 157 people dead.
The preliminary findings released Thursday by transportation authorities in Addis Ababa put the American aircraft giant under even greater pressure to restore public trust, with nearly 350 people dead in crashes involving its formerly top-selling 737 MAX aircraft in less than five months amid mounting signs the company’s onboard anti-stall systems were fault.
“We remain confident in the fundamental safety of the 737 MAX,” CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement, adding that impending software fixes would make the aircraft “among the safest airplanes ever to fly.”
Muilenburg also acknowledged, however, that an “erroneous activation” of Boeing’s so-called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System had occurred. The system is designed to prevent stalls but may have forced the Ethiopian and Indonesian jets into the ground.
In an earlier statement, the head of the company’s commercial aircraft division had said Boeing was ready to perform “any and all additional steps” to enhance the safety of the 737 MAX.
A report by Ethiopian investigators on Thursday said the crew of the Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed last month, killing 157 people, repeatedly followed procedures recommended by Boeing, but were unable to regain control of the jet.
The initial probe appears to confirm concerns about MCAS, with data echoing that from the crash of the Indonesian Lion Air 737 MAX 8 flight in October last year which killed 189 people.
Ethiopian authorities’ full report has not been publicly released, but according to a draft copy seen by AFP, shortly after take-off a sensor recording the level of the plane began transmitting faulty data, prompting the autopilot system to point the nose downwards.
“The crew performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer, but was not able to control the aircraft,” said Ethiopian Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges, unveiling results of the preliminary probe into the crash.
The report recommends “the aircraft flight control system shall be reviewed by the manufacturer,” Dagmawit said.
“Aviation authorities shall verify that the review of the aircraft flight control system has been adequately addressed by the manufacturer before the release of the aircraft for operations,” she added.
Boeing now says it plans to release a software fix to the anti-stall system used aboard the 737 MAX aircraft in the coming weeks.
US regulators this week demanded further improvements to a proposed fix before it could be submitted for review and announced a review of the certification of the automated flight control system on the 737 MAX.
The Ethiopian Airlines flight was headed to Nairobi on a clear morning on March 10 when so-called Angle of Attack sensors on either side of the nose of the plane began sending conflicting information to the auto pilot system shortly after take-off.
According to report AFP saw, the nose of the plane pointed down four times without pilot input.
The autopilot was switched off at some point and the captain called out “pull up” three times to his first officer as the pair battled to gain control.
Three minutes after takeoff and three minutes before the crash, the captain asked the first officer to try the manual trim system, which changes the level of the plane. He replied that it was not working.
They asked to turn back, but it was too late. The plane pitched down at a 40-degree angle, smashing into a field outside Addis Ababa at about 500 knots (920 kilometers/575 miles per hour).
Both engines were buried at a depth of 10 meters (32 feet), in a crater 28 meters wide and 40 meters long, with fragments of debris found within a radius of about 300 meters.
“This accident was not survivable,” said the report.
Citizens from over 30 countries were on board.
Shortly after the Lion Air crash last year, Boeing issued a bulletin reminding operators of emergency guidelines to override the anti-stall system, amid indications it had received erroneous information from Angle of Attack sensors during that disaster.


China’s Xi Jinping to visit North Korea this week ahead of G20

Updated 17 June 2019
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China’s Xi Jinping to visit North Korea this week ahead of G20

  • Xi JingPing will be in Pyongyang at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
  • Kim Jong Un has gone to China multiple times over the past year

BEIJING: Xi Jinping will make the first trip to North Korea by a Chinese president in 14 years this week, state media said Monday, as Beijing tightens relations with Pyongyang amid tensions with the United States.
Xi will visit Pyongyang on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said Chinese broadcaster CCTV.
The timing is likely to raise eyebrows at the White House as it comes one week before the G20 summit in Japan, where US President Donald Trump expects to meet with Xi to discuss their protracted trade war.
Analysts say Xi could now use North Korea as leverage in talks with Trump.
China and North Korea have worked to improve relations in the past year after they deteriorated as Beijing backed a series of UN sanctions against its Cold War-era ally over its nuclear activities.
The North’s leader Kim Jong Un has traveled to China — his country’s sole major ally — four times in the past year to meet Xi.
But Xi had yet to reciprocate until now. It will be the first trip there by a Chinese president since Hu Jintao went in 2005.
“China-DPRK relations have opened a new chapter,” CCTV said, adding that Xi and Kim have reached a “series of important consensus” in past meetings.
Xi and Kim will “push for new progress” in a political resolution of the Korean peninsula issue, according to CCTV, which cited an unnamed official.
With Beijing and Washington at loggerheads over trade, China is keen to remind Trump of its influence in Pyongyang, with whom his nuclear negotiations — a point of pride for the US president, who faces an election next year — are also at a deadlock.
“The signal would be that China remains a critical stakeholder,” said Jingdong Yuan, a professor specializing in Asia-Pacific security and Chinese foreign policy at the University of Sydney.
“You cannot ignore China and China can play a very important role,” he told AFP. Xi could thus use the trip as a “bargaining chip” in the US-China trade war, he added.
According to an informed source in Pyongyang, Beijing was keen to arrange a visit to North Korea ahead of any encounter between Xi and Trump at the G20 summit — with logistics finalized only last month.
In recent days, hundreds of soldiers and workers have been sprucing up the Friendship Tower in Pyongyang, pruning bushes and replanting flowerbeds on the approaches to the monument, which commemorates the millions of Chinese troops Mao Zedong sent to save the forces of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, from defeat during the Korean War.
A detachment of soldiers in white jackets was also seen outside the Liberation War Museum — which includes a section on the Chinese contribution — potentially indicating that it may be on Xi’s itinerary.
The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in said it had learned about Xi’s travel plans last week.
“We hope that this visit will contribute to the early resumption of negotiations for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula which will lead to the settlement of lasting peace on the Korean peninsula,” the Blue House said.
It will be Xi’s first trip to North Korea since taking power in 2012, though he visited the country as vice president in 2008.
In contrast, Kim Jong Un has gone to China multiple times over the past year — an unbalanced exchange that has not gone unnoticed in Pyongyang.
According to diplomatic sources in the North Korean capital, after Kim’s many trips to meet Xi, there were increasingly strong feelings in Pyongyang that the Chinese leader should reciprocate for reasons of saving face.
“From a North Korean perspective, it’s time for Chairman Xi to visit,” said John Delury, an expert on US-China relations and Korean Peninsula affairs at Yonsei University in Seoul.
“They do keep score and it’s like four to zero,” he recently told AFP. “So far, Xi has approached China-North Korea relations very much as a function of US-China relations and kind of calculated in terms of that.”
The visit also comes as negotiations between Trump and Kim have soured after a second summit in February broke up without a deal, failing to agree on what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in exchange for sanctions relief.
Since then, Kim has accused Washington of acting in “bad faith” and given it until the end of the year to change its approach.
Still, the nuclear situation is “under control for now,” said Delury.
“That creates a space, a window where Xi could make a visit without expecting like a missile test the day he leaves or something like that,” he said.