Analyse black boxes before grounding 737 MAX 8
The rush to ground all MAX 8s should wait until the Ethiopian Airlines black boxes have been analysed
If you have ever doubted the power of social media hysteria — amped by an uninformed press — to batter your share price, look no further than Boeing. The day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, $28.1bn was wiped off the aircraft-maker’s market value. Within minutes of the crash, aviation forums were alive with speculation and rumour, much of it desperately trying to link the tragedy with the crash of a Lion Air Boeing 737 into the sea off Jakarta in October.
A faulty sensor feeding data to one of the aircraft’s flight management systems — the manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system, designed to prevent the aircraft from stalling in flight — seems to have been the major factor in the Lion Air crash.
Right now, the only similarities between the two accidents is that both aircraft were the same type — a Boeing 737 MAX 8 — and that both were flying somewhat erratically until they crashed.
That the "black boxes" — the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder — from Sunday’s crash have been found and should tell the whole story didn’t dampen the hysteria. Passengers began cancelling flights.
Pilots and non-pilots alike called for the 47 airlines that operate the MAX 8 to ground them until the problem is found and fixed.
US low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines, which operates 34 of the type, demurred. SA’s Comair, which took delivery of the first of eight MAX 8s two weeks ago, grounded it. China ordered all its airlines to stop flying the jet. Other airlines followed.
If a rogue flight system turns out to be the key factor in the crash, then Boeing, which has 4,661 orders for the aircraft at $112m apiece, faces an Icarus moment. But the reality is that air crashes are rarely ever caused by a single thing.
Mostly they are the result of a series of events that begin stacking up until the aircraft plunges out of the sky.
The rules of aviation safety are written in blood. Flying on a commercial airliner may, statistically speaking, be one of the safest things you can do.