Ethiopia crash black boxes arrive in France for analysis

EJERE, Ethiopia (AP) — Flight recorders from a doomed Ethiopian Airlines flight arrived in France for analysis Thursday as frustrated relatives of the 157 people killed stormed out of a meeting with airline officials in Addis Ababa.

Sunday’s crash was the second fatal
flight for a Boeing 737 Max 8 in less than six months. More than 40
countries, including the U.S., have now grounded the planes or refused
to let them into their airspace.

After holding out for several
days, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order
grounding the planes Wednesday, saying they had new satellite data and
evidence that showed the movements of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302
were similar to those of Lion Air Flight 610. That flight crashed into
the Java Sea off Indonesia in October, killing 189 people.

Officials
at Lion Air have said sensors on their plane produced erroneous
information on its last four flights, triggering an automatic nose-down
command that the pilots were unable to overcome on its final voyage.

Ethiopian
Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said its pilots had received special
training on how to deal with that problem, and Boeing sent further
instructions for pilots after the Lion Air crash.

Tewolde said he is confident the investigation will reveal that the crash is not related to the safety record of Ethiopian Airlines, widely seen as the best-managed in Africa.

Firm answers about what caused the crash could take months. The
French air accident investigation authority, known by its French acronym
BEA, said Thursday it will handle the analysis of the flight recorders,
often referred to as a plane’s black boxes, retrieved from the crash
site.

The BEA has experience with global air crashes, and its
expertise is often sought whenever an Airbus plane crashes because the
manufacturer is based in France. A BEA official told The Associated
Press that the recorders have already arrived in France but gave no time
frame on how long the analysis could take.

The U.S. National
Transportation Safety Board said it is sending three investigators to
France to help with the downloading an analysis of the flight recorders.

In
Addis Ababa, about 200 angry family members of crash victims left a
briefing with Ethiopian Airlines officials, saying that the carrier has
not given them adequate information. Officials said they have opened a
call-in center that is available 18 hours a day to respond to questions,
but family members said they are not getting the answers they need.
People from 35 countries died.

At the crash scene in Hejere, about
50 kilometers (31 miles) from Addis Ababa, growing numbers of family
members arrived, some wailing or beating their chests as a bulldozer
navigated piles of debris. Blue plastic sheeting covered the wreckage of
the plane.

Moshi Biton, brother of Israeli victim Shimon Daniel
Re’em Biton, asked Ethiopia’s prime minister to allow Israeli
investigators to help recover remains. Two Israelis were killed in the
crash and members of an emergency response team from the country said
they are frustrated because they have not been able to access the crash
site.

“Big families, a lot of people and the full Israeli nation
is waiting for these remains and we will not go out of Ethiopia until we
find the remains to bury them,” Biton said. “Because if not, they will
stay missing for the rest of the life and we cannot do that in our
religion.”

The 737 Max was supposed to boost Boeing’s fortunes for
years to come, but the groundings will have a far-reaching financial
impact, at least in the short term, said John Cox, a veteran pilot and
CEO of Safety Operating Systems. Boeing shares have dropped nearly 11
percent since the crash, but are still up 17 percent overall in 2019.

In
addition to the planes that have been grounded, there are more than
4,600 Boeing 737 Max 8 planes on backlog. There are about 370 Max jets
in circulation.

“There are delivery dates that aren’t being met,
there’s usage of the aircraft that’s not being met, and all the supply
chain things that Boeing so carefully crafted,” Cox said. “If they can’t
deliver the airplanes, where do they put the extra engines and the
extra fuselage and the extra electrical components?”

Impacted
airlines also may come knocking on Boeing’s door claiming damages.
Norwegian Airlines said it would pursue reimbursement from Boeing for
lost business and if other carriers follow suit, that could be costly.
Whether airlines would be successful with such claims depends on the
details of the contracts those carriers have with Boeing, said Dan Rose,
partner at Kreindler & Kreindler, an aviation law firm.

“One
way or another, whether there’s a contractual provision that covers it
or not, there are almost certainly going to be claims made against
them,” Rose said.

The FAA was under intense pressure to ground the
planes and resisted even after Canada relented on Wednesday and agreed
to bar the Max from the air.

The agency, which prides itself on
making data-driven decisions, had maintained there was nothing to show
the Boeing jets were unsafe, and flights continued.

But President
Donald Trump, who announced the grounding, was briefed that same day on
new developments by acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell and
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and they determined the planes
should be grounded, the White House said. Trump spoke afterward with
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg and Boeing signed on.

Asked on NBC’s
“Today” show Thursday whether there was evidence the Lion Air and
Ethiopian Airlines flights were brought down by the same cause, Elwell
said: “We are much closer to that possibility, and that’s why we
grounded the airplanes. We got new information yesterday, and we acted
on it. It is in our minds now a link that is close enough to ground the
airplanes.”

Boeing issued a statement saying it supported the
FAA’s decision even though it “continues to have full confidence” in the
planes’ safety.

U.S. airlines, mainly Southwest, American and
United, should be able to swap out planes pretty quickly, and passengers
shouldn’t be terribly inconvenienced, said Paul Hudson, president of
flyersrights.org, which represents passengers. The Max, he said, makes
up only a small percentage of the U.S. passenger jet fleet.

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