Thursday, March 21, 2019

Ethiopian Airlines Had a Max 8 Simulator, but Pilot on Doomed Flight Didn’t Receive Training

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Ethiopian Airlines surpassed many carriers by becoming one of the first to install a simulator to teach pilots how to fly the new Boeing 737 Max 8, but the captain of the doomed Flight 302 never trained on the simulator, according to people close to the airline’s operations.

The people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Ethiopian Airlines had not authorized disclosure of the information, said the carrier had the Max 8 simulator up and running in January, two months before Flight 302 crashed.

Boeing has said that experienced 737 pilots needed little training for the new Max 8, an assertion that has now come under close scrutiny by regulatory officials and pilots at other airlines. Two of the planes have fatally crashed in the past five months, and regulators around the world grounded all Max 8s last week.

The pilot of Flight 302, Yared Getachew, who had 8,000 hours of flying experience including on the 737, took a refresher course on a different simulator in late September and early October, according to one person familiar with the airline, and was not due for another round of simulator training until after the crash on March 10.

It was unclear if the second pilot on Flight 302, the co-pilot, had trained on the Max 8 simulator. Nor was it clear if the airline had used the simulator for refresher courses it requires pilots to take every six months, or only to train new pilots.

Still, use of the simulator by Ethiopian Airlines means the carrier was among the few in the world that not only had a working simulator for Boeing Max jets but was using it a few months after the first Max 8 crash, Lion Air Flight 610.

The Ethiopian and Lion Air flights crashed minutes after takeoff and showed similar up-and-down oscillations before fatal nose-dives. A central focus of the Indonesian investigation is the possibility that the automated system pushed the nose down into a fatal dive because of inaccurate input from a sensor.

Even if both pilots on Flight 302 had trained on the simulator, it is unclear if such preparation would have included maneuvers to deal with the kinds of problems they may have faced.

After the Lion Air crash, Ethiopian Airlines also shared with its pilots Boeing’s instructions on how to deal with the kind of problems Lion Air pilots appeared to have encountered, the people close to Ethiopian Airlines operations said.

In a bulletin issued in November, Boeing said that emergency procedures that applied to earlier 737 models would have corrected the problems that may have contributed to the Max 8 crash in Indonesia.

Pilots for Ethiopian Airlines, who declined to speak on the record, said they paid close attention to bulletins issued by aircraft manufacturers, especially following an accident. One pilot said failing to read the bulletins would be tantamount to “walking out of your house naked.”

The Ethiopian crash has brought new scrutiny to the system Boeing put in its new Max planes to prevent stalls, called MCAS. The system was designed to compensate for changes to the aerodynamics that arose from alterations to the size and position of the engines on the wings.

The pilots on the doomed Lion Air flight did not appear to understand why the jet was tipping downward and how to correct that problem. One flipped through a technical manual, and the other began to pray, according to the cockpit voice recording.
20/03/19  Selam Gebrekidan/New York Times
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