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Relatives of the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash. Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

The investigation into March's fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash — which helped lead to a worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft — has reached the preliminary conclusion that a "suspect flight-control feature automatically activated before the plane nose-dived into the ground," the WSJ reports.

The big picture: The preliminary investigation into the fatal Boeing 737 MAX crash near Jakarta, Indonesia in October also focused on the same automated system, known as MCAS, which may have been triggered by erroneous readings from a sensor mounted on the plane's nose.

Boeing installed this software in response to design changes that made the plane susceptible to a high speed stall in rare circumstances, and it's meant to push the plane's nose down to avoid such an occurrence.

Context:

  • But this system gets its input from just a single angle of attack sensor mounted near the nose of the aircraft, making it susceptible to erroneous readings from that sensor.
  • In addition, Boeing is under scrutiny for not informing pilots about the existence and workings of the MCAS system until the Lion Air crash in Indonesia.
  • Boeing is working on software fixes to improve the MCAS system's reliability, but it's unclear when regulators in the U.S. and abroad may clear the plane for takeoff again.

The 737 MAX is a cash cow for Boeing, having sold at least 5,000 aircraft-to-date. This makes the future of the plane integral to the company's financial health.

The FAA, Department of Transportation, Justice Department and others are all investigating different aspects of the 737 MAX crashes and certification process.

Go deeper: Everything else you need to know about the Boeing 737 MAX crashes

Go deeper

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8, Schumer says

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Schumer announced the schedule after reaching an agreement with Republicans. The House will transmit the article of impeachment against the former president late Monday.

10 hours ago - Health

CDC extends interval between COVID vaccine doses for exceptional cases

Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty

Patients can space out the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by up to six weeks if it’s "not feasible" to follow the shorter recommended window, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

Driving the news: With the prospect of vaccine shortages and a low likelihood that supply will expand before April, the latest changes could provide a path to vaccinate more Americans — a top priority for President Biden.