Mar 29, 2019

Ethiopian Airlines investigation indicates Boeing software system may have caused crash

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

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Coronavirus spreads to more countries, and U.S. ups its case count

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread to more nations, and the U.S. reports a doubling of its confirmed cases to 34 — while noting those are mostly due to repatriated citizens, emphasizing there's no "community spread" yet in the U.S. Meanwhile, Italy reported its first virus-related death on Friday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 2,359 people and infected more than 77,000 others, mostly in mainland China. New countries to announce infections recently include Israel, Lebanon and Iran.

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Wells Fargo agrees to pay $3 billion to settle consumer abuse charges

Clients use an ATM at a Wells Fargo Bank in Los Angeles, Calif. Photo: Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Wells Fargo agreed to a pay a combined $3 billion to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday for opening millions of fake customer accounts between 2002 and 2016, the SEC said in a press release.

The big picture: The fine "is among the largest corporate penalties reached during the Trump administration," the Washington Post reports.