As investigators dig for the root cause of the March 10 crash involving Ethiopian Airlines B737 Max 8 that killed all the 157 souls onboard, fresh facts have emerged that the Captain, Yared Getachew, was not sufficiently trained on that sophisticated jetliner.
While Boeing, the airplane builder has never minced words on its safety and confidence level of the aircraft, sources at Ethiopian Airlines headquarters in Addis Ababa told Reuters that Getachew was yet to be trained on the Max 8 before simulator flying it.
Ethiopian Airlines, with is high safety record, was one of the carriers globally to acquire the simulator having ordered a good number of Max 8 jets from Boeing.
Boeing insists 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 new jetliners have been involved in fatalities in similar circumstances and killed all onboard.
The frightening development earned the Max 8 global redcard for what many believed has been a faltering performance within two years of its creation and as such needed to be urgently addressed before more disasters are recorded.
Ethiopian Airlines it was learnt had the Max 8 simulator up and running in January, two months before Flight 302 crashed.
The pilot of Flight 302, Yared Getachew, who had 8,000 hours of flying experience including on the 737, was said to have taken a refresher course on a different simulator in late September and early October.
He was not due for another simulator training until mid March before he died in 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. It was also unclear if the airline had used the simulator for refresher courses it requires pilots to take every six months, or only to train new pilots.
Despite Boeing’s assertions that the plane was safe, the crashes have gravely rattled the global aviation community who have since queried Boeing and its American regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration, if it did sufficient training for pilots on how to deal with the Max 8’s new features, especially the new system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that prevents the airplane from stalling.
Hours after the disclosure, Ethiopian Airlines tweeted in a statement challenging what it described as “wrong reporting” without specifying what was incorrect in a statement to the media yesterday. It said its pilots completed the Boeing recommended and the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved differences training from the B737NG aircraft to the Ethiopian operation and before they start flying the B737-8 MAX.
According to the management, “The pilots are also made aware and well briefed on the emergency airworthiness directive issued by the FAA following the Lion Air accident. The content of the airworthiness directive has also been well incorporated in all pilots training manuals, operational procedures and working manuals. The B737MAX full flight simulator is not designed to simulate the MCAS system problems”.
The carrier urged all concerned to refrain from making such “uninformed, incorrect, irresponsible and misleading statements during the period of the accident investigation. International regulations require all stakeholders to wait patiently for the result of the investigation”.
The airline’s statement did not include information on the captain’s simulator training.
However, its statement said that its pilots had completed “differences training” recommended by Boeing and approved by the F.A.A. before they switched to flying the Max 8 jets from an earlier Boeing 737 model.
Boeing said that pilots who had flown earlier models did not need additional simulator training, and even after the October crash in Indonesia, the F.A.A. agreed.
Many pilots learned the new features of the Boeing on an iPad, and many were not originally informed of the existence of the automated system, which can push the plane’s nose down if it is approaching a stall.
The Ethiopian and Lion Air flights crashed minutes after take-off 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.
The Ethiopian Flight 302 crash killed all 157 aboard and the Lion Air Flight 610 crash killed all 189.