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Boeing 737 Max 8 black boxes from Ethiopian Airlines crash sent to France for examination  2 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders from doomed Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 arrived Thursday in Paris, where French aviation authorities were tasked with probing the black boxes for clues to the tragedy.

France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety, or BEA, said there was no immediate information on the condition of the recorders. Preliminary information could take several days to extract, the agency said.

Sunday's crash, which killed all 157 aboard, was the second crash of a Boeing 737 Max in five months. In October, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed in the Java Sea 12 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. All 189 people aboard were killed.

The 371 Boeing 737 Max jets flown around the world have been grounded pending further investigation. Also hanging in the balance are orders for more than 4,500 of the hot-selling planes.

Boeing has "paused" deliveries of the 737 Max but that production continues, said spokesman Paul Bergman on Thursday.

"Boeing is facing rough waters, or rough air, in the coming months," Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, told USA TODAY. "Look, you may or may not have a glitch in some sophisticated software. Some pilots were confronted with a challenge and were able to overcome it. Some were not. Why not? This is complicated."

The Ethiopian Accident Investigation Authority sought help because of the sophisticated software involved. German aviation authorities said their technology was not designed for the new type of recorder used on the 737 Max jets.

Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam had suggested that a European agency might be selected over U.S. aviation authorities "in the interest of proximity and in the interest of speed."

Goelz said he was not surprised that France, not the U.S., was chosen for the task. He also said that under international treaties the National Transportation Safety Board can be represented "in the room" when the recorders are examined.

Ethiopian authorities will decide whether Boeing can be represented, he said.

Garuda, the national airline of Indonesia, is considering canceling its order for 20 Boeing 737 Max planes, CEO Ari Askhara said Thursday. Goelz said other airlines also might rethink their orders.

Bank of America analyst Ronald Epstein told CNBC that once Boeing identifies a possible problem with the jet, "the most likely scenario, in our view, is that the company will take about 3-6 months to come up with a fix and certify the fix." But no one knows how much time engineers will need to identify the problem, Goelz said.

Goelz also said he was not surprised that at least one airline said it will seek compensation from Boeing. The list could grow the longer the grounding lasts, he said.

"Planes will be sitting on the tarmac," he said. "Airlines will want to be compensated for that." 

The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday that the flight path data of the airliners in the moments before the crashes showed similarities. Both jets crashed after drastic speed fluctuations during ascent. Both pilots made ill-fated efforts to return to the airport after takeoff.

The FAA issued an emergency order temporarily grounding Boeing's Max planes in the United States, the last nation where they were being flown after Sunday's crash. 

Daniel Elwell, acting head of the FAA, dismissed claims that the partial shutdown of the U.S. government early this year had delayed software upgrades for Max 8 planes developed after the Lion Air disaster. Those upgrades are scheduled for completion by month's end, Elwell said.

Southwest Airlines, which operates more of the jets than any other domestic carrier, said its 34 grounded jetliners account for less than 5 percent of daily flights. The airline said it is offering "flexible" ticketing policies and that passengers booked on canceled flights can rebook at no additional cost.

The United States had been under pressure to join nations worldwide in grounding the planes after concerns mounted that the Ethiopian crash was similar to one in October. Wednesday, Canada joined the list of countries that halted the flights.

The Max fleet began flying two years ago and includes 74 domestic planes. Airlines have ordered more than 4,500 of the jetliners, the newest version of the 737 and best-selling airliner ever. 

Records show that federal aviation authorities received at least 11 reports concerning perceived safety problems with the aircraft. Two pilots reported their planes unexpectedly pitched nose down after they engaged autopilot following departure. Another pilot reported a “temporary level off” triggered by the aircraft automation.

The pilot of a flight in November 2018 called part of the aircraft’s flight manual “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient.”

Goelz said he is confident Boeing representatives are poring over all the information.

"I think the Boeing commercial and legal team will be very busy in the coming months," he said.

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