Did Ethiopia snub the US with ‘unusual’ black box decision?

Ethiopia’s refusal to hand over the black boxes from the Ethiopian Airlines crash to the United States, sending them to France instead, may be a sign US authorities aren’t trusted to determine what caused the Boeing jet to crash, it has been suggested.

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders, which were recovered from the wreckage of the flight on Monday, have arrived at France’s Bureau of Inquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety, known as BEA.

It is hoped they will help investigators determine what caused the four-month-old Boeing 737 MAX 8 to crash shortly after taking off from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board.

But the move to send the black boxes to France instead of the United States — where Boeing is based — has been described an “unusual” break with tradition that could be seen as “a snub” to the US.

The mangled flight data recorder has arrived in France for analysis. Picture: BEASource:Supplied

Ethiopian Airlines said the decision was strategic after the US Federal Aviation Administration was so slow to move on grounding the MAX aircraft, despite many nations banning the use of the plane over safety concerns soon after the tragedy, the LA Times reported.

Ethiopia didn’t have the necessarily technology to analyse the black boxes, the airline’s chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam said on Wednesday.

The recorders were originally intended to be read in Germany, but the German accident investigation bureau said it also lacked the capability to work with aircraft’s “new software”.

It was unusual for black boxes to be sent to a country that was not directly involved in the crash, either as the location of the crash, the place where the aircraft was registered, or the base of its manufacturer, the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch said, according to Bloomberg.

Forensics experts comb through the dirt for debris at the crash site. Picture: Tony Karumba/AFPSource:AFP

The US National Transportation Safety Board, which usually takes a leading role in probing incidents relating to American-made Boeing aircraft, will still send three investigators to France to help download and decode the black box data.

The Ethiopian Aircraft Accident Investigations Bureau will be in charge of the investigation.

At the BEA in Paris, investigators will examine the flight data recorder, which collects information about the plane’s altitude and airspeed, and the cockpit voice recorder, which may help explain the “flight control difficulties” the Ethiopian Airlines pilot told air traffic control he was experiencing right before the crash.

The flight data recorder appears to be damaged but intact, according to photos released by the BEA.

Two grounded American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 are parked at Miami International Airport after the aircraft is suspended. Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFPSource:AFP

The agency has experience investigating crashes and other incidents, particularly involving Boeing’s Europe-based rival Airbus.

The agency hasn’t said how long it will take to analyse the black boxes, but it can take days or even weeks.


Few questions have been answered so far about the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302.

Here are the key questions aviation regulators, the airline industry and the travelling public are very keen to hear answers to.


All we know so far is the flight deck experienced flight control difficulties within minutes of takeoff from the airport at Addis Ababa, but we don’t know what those difficulties were.

“According to the air traffic controller’s recorded voice exchange, the pilot recorded flight control problems, so he was having difficulties with the flight control of the aeroplane,” Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam said this week.

Rescue and recovery volunteers from Israel assess the crash site, where two Israeli passengers were among those killed. Picture: Mulugeta Ayene/APSource:AP

“He asked to return back to base, and clearance was given to him.

“That was at 8.44am, at the same time the aeroplane disappeared from the radar.”

The black boxes have just arrived in France for analysis, which could take weeks, so for now it’s a wait-and-see.


It’s too early to say whether this crash is any way connected with the crash of a Lion Air plane in Indonesia in October. Some experts have been cautious about comparing the two incidents but the similarities are striking.

Both involved almost brand-new 737 MAX 8 jets. The MAX 8 is a more energy-efficient version of Boeing’s top-selling 737 planes.

Both flights crashed within minutes of takeoff — eight minutes in the case of the Lion Air plane, and six minutes with the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

And both planes experienced erratic flight after takeoff, with both pilots asking to turn back to the origin airport.

An employee works on the engine of a 737 MAX 9 aeroplane outside Boeing’s factory in Washington. Picture: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images/AFPSource:AFP

A big focus of attention in the wake of both crashes has been an anti-stalling system called the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.

The feature was added to the MAX planes because the nose tends to pitch up in flight. Sensors tell the MCAS to pitch the nose down.

As both pilots apparently had trouble controlling the erratically flying planes, experts are interested to see if a faulty sensor is involved.

Reports emerged this week at least four MAX 8 pilots complained about the aircraft suddenly pitching downward in the weeks after the Lion Air crash.


That depends on the answers to the first two questions. But this week’s move to ground the aircraft worldwide suggests no one’s willing to take the risk just yet.

Boeing has defended the MAX since the crash but yesterday, it supported the FAA’s order for the aircraft to be temporarily grounded.

Flights were cancelled across North America as the MAX aircraft were grounded. Picture: Richard Drew/APSource:AP

“We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution,” the jet-maker said in a statement.

“Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes and it always will be. There is no greater priority for our company and our industry. We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again.”

Before the ban, many passengers frantically tried to get out of flight bookings on MAX planes.

Aviation experts have said it’s possible the planes are not safe.

“I’ve never said that it’s unsafe to fly a particular model of aircraft, but in this case, I’m going to have to go there,” former FAA safety inspector David Soucie told CNN earlier this week.

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