Airplane (220314)
Airplane Credit: Pixabay

On the morning of March 10 an Ethiopian Airlines jetliner, in clear weather, crashed shortly after leaving Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. The plane was en route to Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya. This same model aircraft was used by Indonesian airline Lion Air when it went down in Indonesia just four months earlier: Lion Air Flight 610 killed all 189 passengers, including the air crew.

Ethiopian Airlines, the flag carrier of the East African nation, immediately ground its remaining Boeing 737 Max 8 aircrafts “until further notice.”

A statement issued by the African carrier read: “Although we don’t yet know the cause of the accident, we had to decide to grounded the particular fleet as extra safety precaution.”

Other airlines followed suit. On March 13, all airlines using the plane, except U.S. domestic carriers, had grounded the Max 8 with the addition of the European Union issuing a statement preventing the plane from using its air space.

By the later part of the same date U.S. president Donald Trump announced all Max 8 aircraft would be grounded until further notice.

Rumors that the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 would  seriously damage Ethiopia’s premier airlines relationship with Boeing may be overrated. It does not take into consideration the state-run airline’s history. Ethiopia’s airline actually had its beginnings with a delegation visiting New York in 1945 armed with a request to American officials to assist it in launching a commercial airline for all its domestic service.

Ethiopian Airlines, the country’s national carrier, was founded on Dec. 30, 1945, by Emperor Haile Selassie. The airline commenced operation in 1946, with a weekly service between Addis Ababa and Cairo with five Douglas DC-3 propeller-driven aircrafts.

Beginning with assistance from the now defunct U.S. based Trans World Airlines and “later Boeing’s technological support, Ethiopian Airlines has over the decades transformed into Africa’s largest and most successful airline,” reported Quartz Africa.

In 1962 with African liberation movements and the overthrow of colonial regimes in full effect, Ethiopia became the first African airline to secure and pilot the Boeing 720B. According to Quartz, the manufacturer was also critical in Ethiopia’s expansion strategy, “whether in the short to medium-range routes or nonstop long-distance flights to Europe (1963), China (1973), and the United States (1984). In 1977, the state carrier acquired a Boeing 720B simulator, making it autonomous from foreign airlines when it came to pilot training, and kick-starting the journey to establish a leading aviation academy.”   

Much of the Western press has suggested that Ethiopian Airlines may be complicit in the Boeing 737 Max 8 crash. Ethiopia strongly refuted what it said were baseless and factually inaccurate allegations. “All the allegations … are false defamations without any evidence, collected from unknown and unreliable sources to divert attention from the global grounding of the B-737 MAX airplanes.”

A recent New York Times headline, “Can Ethiopia’s Long Love Affair With Boeing Survive the 737 Max Crash?” said that Ethiopia and Boeing maintained such “close ties” that, until three years ago, it didn’t purchase planes from rival Airbus.

With the airline’s entire 737 Max 8 fleet grounded and with over 4000 orders on hold Ethiopia is the least of Boeings problems. “But once the investigations are over and the dust has settled,” according to the Times, “the company may need to work hard to restore its image in a country [Ethiopia] where its reputation was once beyond challenge.”  

To add to Boeing’s woes a “scandal is emerging.” It appears that, nearly 10 years ago, to stay competitive with its rival manufacturing competitor Airbus, Boeing not only cut costs, but also possibly safety by adding to the 737 a nacelle (housing that holds engine and fuel) too large for the aircraft. The 737 is lower to the ground than the Airbus A320, and the new more fuel efficient engine has a larger diameter, which, unlike the Boeing aircraft, the Airbus without modifications is able to accommodate.

Putting ill-fitting engines on airlines to stay competitive instead of building a new plane is the height of corporate greed at the expense of safety.  

The problem with this emerging development, as revealed in some aviation publications and reported on, was “to get the engine under the 737 wing, engineers had to mount the engine nacelle higher and more forward on the plane. But moving the engine nacelle (and related change to the nose of the plane) changed the aerodynamics of the plane, such that the plane did not handle properly at a high angle of attack. That, in term, led to the creation of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). It fixed the angle-of attack problem in most situations, but it created new problems in other situations when it made it difficult for pilots to directly control the plane without being overridden by the MCAS.”

Note: According to pilot and software engineer, Dave Kammeyer, “don’t blame software.” It’s being used to get around a whole host of problems.

A possible reason for lessening of U.S. aviation safety standards, reported FORBES, is that since 2005 the FAA “shifted its approach for how it delegated authority outside the agency, creating a new program through which aircraft manufacturers like Boeing could choose their own employees to be the designees and help certify planes.”  

New information from the Indonesia, Lion Air 737 Max investigation links a “faulty sensor… to the jetliner’s deadly crash…,” reported the financial publication Bloomberg. On April 4, according to CBS News, the Ethiopian government and Ethiopian Airlines briefed reporters on its initial findings stating “preliminary report show the doomed jet’s crew followed guidance provided by Boeing on how to fly the plane, including emergency procedures, but failed to regain control of the jet, putting the blame largely on the manufacturer.”

ABC News reported, “The Ethiopian Airlines crew commanding the Boeing 737 Max 8, which crashed last month and killed all 157 people on board, followed all recommended procedures but couldn’t regain control of the doomed flight.”

The fact that Boeing executives are deliberately offering every explanation for the crash but the fact the 737’s engine nacelle changed the aerodynamics of the plane, and thus bringing into question a pilot’s ability to control it, is telling.

Before the accident, according to the British publication The Independent, “If you want to fly on the continent’s best airline, with the world’s most modern aircraft, then it has to be Ethiopian. During traumas from famine to revolution, the airline has managed to deliver those two elusive qualities: customer service and profit.”

If Ethiopian Airlines can overcome all manner of adversity, and still be Africa’s No. 1 airline, why would a plane accident, which many carriers before it has suffered, cause the Western press to suggest otherwise?

Ethiopian Airlines currently flies to over 50 African cities in what is the largest network by a national carrier. Currently it’s in discussions to assist at least a dozen African countries to establish and manage their carriers. On top of that, the airline is in its seventh decade of operation and has become Africa’s leading carrier in terms of efficiency and operational success, reported