The first Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet delivered to Ethiopian Airlines takes off in July 2018. (Boeing Photo) The Federal Aviation Administration today responded to concerns over Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets by reassuring airlines that the planes were airworthy, despite the fact that the model was involved in two catastrophic fatal accidents in the past five months. , just minutes after the takeoff of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, heading from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to Nairobi in Kenya. In its the FAA acknowledged that many reports have pointed out similarities to the , in which 189 people dled. “However, this investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions,” the notification said. Airlines in China, Ethiopia, Indonesia and several other countries grounded their 737 MAX 8 jets, pending verification that the planes are safe. It’s not yet clear what effect the FAA’s confirmation of airworthiness will have on those suspensions in service. The FAA has dispatched experts to assist Ethiopian investigators on the ground, Experts from the National Transportation Safety Board, GE Aviation, Boeing and Kenya’s civil aviation agency are on the case as well. “All data will be closely examined, and the FAA will take appropriate action if the data indicates the need to do so,” the FAA said. focused on an automatic control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. The system is meant as a safeguard to keep the plane from stalling under extreme aerodynamic conditions, but there were some signs that the system on the Lion Air 737-8 was receiving spurious data from an angle-of-attack sensor. Today’s notification reviewed actions taken by the FAA to ensure that Boeing’s prescribed safety procedures were adequate. The FAA also noted that some actions are still in process. For instance, Boeing is working on design changes to the MCAS system that will result in less reliance on “procedures associated with required pilot memory items.” “The FAA anticipates mandating these design changes by AD [airworthiness directive] no later than April 2019,” the agency said. Boeing will also update its training requirements and flight crew manuals to reflect the design changes for 737-8 and 737-9 models, The FAA said. The Ethiopian plane’s two “black boxes” — the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder — have been recovered from crash debris, but it’s not yet clear how much data can be retrieved. One witness that smoke was coming from the rear of the plane before it hit the ground. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., urged the FAA to “until their safe use has been confirmed.” The FAA didn’t indicate it would take that step, but promised to take if it identifies an issue that affects safety. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao echoed that view: “I want travelers to be assured that we are taking this seriously and monitoring latest developments.” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, meanwhile, voiced confidence in the 737 MAX line, which is produced at the company’s factory in Renton, Wash. “We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX and in the work of the men and women who design and build it,” . “Since its certification and entry into service, the MAX family has completed hundreds of thousands of flights safely.” He acknowledged that dealing with Sunday’s tragedy was “especially challenging” because it came so soon after the Lion Air crash. “While difficult, I encourage everyone to stay focused on the important work we do,” Muilenburg wrote. CEO to employees: Since its certification and entry into service, the MAX family has completed hundreds of thousands of flights safely. We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX and in the work of the men and women who design and build it. — Kris Van Cleave (@krisvancleave)
Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam visits the accident scene. (Ethiopian Airlines Photo via Twitter) Update for 7:45 p.m. PT March 10: Chinese officials asked domestic Chinese airlines to suspend flights of their Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, in light of today’s catastrophic crash in Ethiopia. The crash, which killed all 157 people aboard the plane, was the second fatal accident involving the 737-8 model in less than five months. The earlier crash killed 189 people on a Lion Air flight in Indonesia. , China’s Civil Aviation Administration said it was issuing the suspension notice “in view of the fact that the two air crashes were newly delivered Boeing 737-8 aircraft, and they all occurred in the takeoff phase.” The similarities led officials to declare the suspension “in line with the management principle of zero tolerance for safety hazards and strict control of safety risks.” The agency said it would consult with Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and let Chinese airlines know when flights can be resumed. Separately, Cayman Airlines said it was “until more information is received.” The crash forced the at its factory in Everett, Wash. “Boeing is deeply saddened by the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accident and our focus is on supporting our customer,” company spokesman Paul Bergman said in an email. “In light of this, we are postponing the 777X external debut on March 13 and the related media events. We will look for an opportunity to mark the new plane with the world in the near future.” Previously: Ethiopian Airlines said one of its Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets crashed today, just minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa’s airport en route to Nairobi, Kenya, killing all 157 people aboard. It was the second fatal crash involving a recently delivered 737 MAX 8, following the last Oct. 29. Although it’s too early to speculate about the cause, the fact that two recently delivered 737 MAX 8 jets have been involved in catastrophic accidents during an early phase of flight is drawing attention from analysts. that today’s crash “is raising more intense questions — and speculation than usual after a crash because it comes in the wake of the Lion Air 737-8 crash last year.” “But be cautious about drawing conclusions at this stage,” Leeham’s Scott Hamilton wrote. “Until the black boxes are recovered, information is limited.” At a news conference in Ethiopia, Tewolde GebreMariam, the group CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, also counseled caution. He said Boeing and Ethiopia’s Accident Investigation Bureau would take part in the crash investigation. The U.S. National Transportation Board said it was , with assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration and GE. Kenyan investigators were on their way as well. In a statement, Boeing said it was extended its sympathy and confirmed that it would send a technical team to assist in the investigation. Ethiopian Airlines said Flight 302 was , representing 35 nationalities. Eight Americans were said to be aboard. the flight had arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, earlier in the day from Johannesburg, South Africa, and headed out for Nairobi at 8:38 a.m. local time, flown by a senior captain with more than 8,000 cumulative flight hours. GebreMariam said the pilot reported difficulties just after takeoff from Bole International Airport. The pilot reportedly sought, and was given, permission to return to the airport — but contact was lost at 8:44 a.m., six minutes into the flight. The plane smashed into the ground violently in an area about 20 miles to the southeast, near the town of Bishoftu. A showed GebreMariam at the crash scene, surrounded by wreckage and disturbed earth. At first blush, the circumstances seem similar to those of the Lion Air crash in Indonesia. In that case, pilots reported difficulties maintaining level flight on their 737 MAX 8 just minutes after takeoff. Soon afterward, the plane took a high-speed, catastrophic dive into the Java Sea. The suggest that an automatic flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, may have played a role in that incident. The MCAS system is a safeguard that’s meant to keep the 737 MAX from stalling under extreme aerodynamic conditions, but investigators surmised that the system was getting spurious data from sensors that measure air flow over the wings. Boeing says pilots have a procedure that can quickly resolve such an issue, but that procedure was not followed by the Lion Air pilots. The Lion Air accident focused heightened attention on the MCAS system, raising pilots’ awareness about the control issue and how to resolve it. Records show that the plane involved in today’s crash had its first flight and was added to Ethiopian Airlines’ fleet in . It was among, out of a ordered in 2014. The airline said the plane “underwent a rigorous first check maintenance” in February. In his , Hamilton said investigators are likely to consider a wide range of factors, including the MCAS issue plus mechanical failure, human error, weather conditions and potential sabotage. “It should be noted that Ethiopian is considered one of the best airlines in the world and the best in Africa,” he wrote. “It’s got a good safety record and service is considered very good. This is in contrast to the spotty safety record of Lion Air.” This is an updated version of a report that was first published at 12:47 p.m. PT March 10.
White House science adviser Kelvin Droegemeier addresses the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., with a video image of him looming in the background. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump’s newly minted science adviser reached out to his peers today at one of the country’s biggest scientific meetings and called for the establishment of a “second bold era” of basic research. “I hope that you never forget that I am one of you,” Kelvin Droegemeier, who was, told hundreds of attendees here at the annual meeting of the . The University of Oklahoma meteorologist is coming into a job that was vacant for two years, in an administration that hasn’t exactly been viewed as science-friendly. The White House’s environmental policies are a particular sore point, in light of Trump’s and . But Droegemeier’s selection has gotten generally good reviews from the science community. AAAS CEO Rush Holt, a Ph.D. physicist and former congressman, took note of Droegemeier’s reputation as a “solid scientist” in his introduction. “Everyone who works with him finds him to have a very accessible manner,” Holt said. “We scientists hope and trust that this will turn into accessible policy.” In his talk, Droegemeier invoked the legacy of science adviser , who set the stage for America’s postwar science boom in 1945 with a report he wrote for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, titled Droegemeier said modern-day America remains the world’s leader in science and technology, but warned that other countries were “nipping at our heels.” “In many respects, we’re kind of thinking in the same ways that we have since World War II … and I would call that period from the Bush treatise in World War II up to the present that first great bold era of science and technology in that endless frontier,” Droegemeier said. “The past 75 years have been extraordinary, and I think we’re about to turn a page into a new frontier.” He said the second bold era would take advantage of the full sweep of America’s research assets, underpinned by American values and based on three pillars: Understanding America’s research and development ecosystem in a new context: Droegemeier called for a quadrennial assessment that takes stock of the entire R&D enterprise, including research conducted by the government, the private sector, academia and non-profit organizations. He pointed to the example of artificial intelligence research: What’s the future demand for AI, and what assets can be deployed to supercharge progress in that field? “The answer is that we don’t really have a clue,” he said. “Getting a handle on this as a portfolio is a real challenge, but in my view, if we’re able to do that, it will really help us think about how to strategically invest and move forward.” Leveraging the collective strength of R&D sectors through innovative partnerships: Droegemeier talked about rekindling the spirit of “those famous blue-sky research labs of the past,” such as . He suggested creating a network of “Alpha Institutes” to pursue “absolutely transformational ideas on some of the biggest challenges that face humanity today, like space exploration, climate change, eradicating disease and making it possible for people to live longer and healthier lives.” These institutes would be located at colleges and universities, and would be funded primarily by industries and non-profits. Ensure that America’s research environments are safe, secure and welcoming: Droegemeier said he would work with the scientific community to tackle the issue of . He said another one of his top priorities would be to make sure that “our resources do not fall into the hands of those attempting to do us harm, or those who would seek to reap the benefits of our hard work without doing hard work themselves.” And he called for “reducing the unnecessary administrative burdens that divert researchers’ time and attention away from innovating and discovery.” He estimated that such burdens cost a few billion dollars a year. After the talk, Droegemeier got a tentative vote of support from Harvard physicist John Holdren, who served as President Barack Obama’s science adviser. “I think Kelvin’s going to do a great job,” Holdren told GeekWire. He added that Droegemeier is likely to face extra challenges because he’s joining the White House team halfway through Trump’s term of office. Holdren hoped that the White House would follow up by making long-overdue appointments to the . AAAS’ Holt said Droegemeier’s speech was “a good talk,” but held off on discussing specific suggestions, such as the Alpha Institute concept. “At the moment, it’s just talk,” Holt told GeekWire.