Last week saw Ethiopian Airlines (ET) making headlines for all the right reasons. File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency/ANA
Last week saw Ethiopian Airlines (ET) making headlines for all the right reasons. File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency/ANA

Boeing must never disrespect Ethiopian Airlines again

By Opinion Time of article published Sep 27, 2020

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Victor Kgomoeswana

Ethiopian Airlines (ET) made another noteworthy headline last week. It opened the world’s first contactless airport terminal, which was completed during the pandemic when airlines were closing operations.

The $300 million (about R5 billion) project is part of Terminal 2 of the bigger Bole International Airport project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

This headline coincided with another historic announcement involving ET. The US Congress vindicated ET in ways nobody imagined, especially Boeing - the American manufacturer of the four-month old 737-MAX 8 jet that crashed on March 10, last year, just outside Addis Ababa.

What made the crash of flight ET 302 spectacular was not only the death of 150 or so passengers and crew, but the arrogance with which Boeing initially handled everything.

Instead of waiting for an investigation, the company dismissively said: “Safety is Boeing’s number one priority and we have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX.”

Although the crash was the second involving the 737 MAX 8 in less than five months, the other having been the October 2018 Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia, Boeing - a $101billion Fortune 500 company - displayed disdain and insensitivity towards African life, by shirking responsibility.

Now, the US Congress has found that the reason for the crash had nothing to do with the pilot or management of ET. The House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure says: “The facts laid out in this report document a disturbing pattern of technical miscalculations and troubling management misjudgments made by Boeing. It also illuminates numerous oversight lapses and accountability gaps by the FAA that played a significant role in the ... crashes”.

The report commended ET for having “flourished over the past two decades as it has capitalised on a strategy to connect primary and secondary markets across the African continent with North American, European, and Asian destinations”, adding its “pilot training programs and facilities have garnered praise from seasoned American pilots”.

As Boeing prepares to return about 700 of its 737s to the skies in the gradual reopening of international air travel it will do so while eating humble pie. It hopefully has learnt to duly respect ET - one of its major customers.

The bottom line remains that the 737 MAX 8 had a technical fault due to the aircraft design. The design improvement was intended to make the jet travel longer distances and carry more passengers. The new bigger 737 MAX 8 shape shifted the engine of the aircraft forward, without any major redesign of the 737 fuselage - which apparently has not changed in five decades.

This new engine position heightened the risk of the aircraft’s nose pitching up in flight. To counter the risk, Boeing resorted to a software to automatically push the nose down - called the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System. The Macs failed to kick in, leading to the ET302 crash. This was aggravated by, according to the US Congress report, sloppiness and dereliction by Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Let Boeing deal with the lawsuits while fixing its processes to avoid loss of life.

Whatever the folks in Seattle decide to do, they must never disrespect ET again.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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