An aviation expert, Kudla Satumari speaks on why Boeing 737-Max aircraft belonging to Ethiopian Airways crashed and measures to put in place to avoid future occurrence. Excerpts;
To what extent does the aviation industry make sure that personnel are fully equipped with the knowledge of this improved technology? The reason why we are this question is, if you look at the Boeing 737-Max air crash of Ethiopian Airline, you find out that statement came that pilots were not trained on some of the new devices of the aircraft. They are coming out now to say they are going to train pilots on how to use the new aircraft. What do you have to say?
Well, let me take those incidents separately. In the industry, whether you are from China, Nigeria, US, if you are certified to fly a particular type of airplane you have been tested and you are found competent to go to simulators and do the simulator training every six month to make sure that you are updated and you are kept in check. Cabin crews go for recurrent training. What we have around, every month-medical; they even check your fitness, they send you for medical check-up. When you are at certain age they even send you every month as a pilot. At a particular level it is twelve months.
Crews or staff in the aviation industry are updated about the latest technology and latest innovations that concern their job because like I said, it is a universal business.
So, for instance you are a particular airline and you are flying to say America. You have a cut-share agreement. And that cut-share agreement, let say you have a cut-share agreement with BA and you can sell a ticket in Nigeria and the person can fly on BA to get there. Before BA and you come to such agreement, BA would want to know that your level of safety and security are at par. BA would want to know that the aircraft is well. BA will want to know that you comply with all the requirements that will qualify you to go into that partnership because you can’t transfer a vicarious liability over to BA.
For instance, if a passenger bought a BA ticket and you are in cut-share agreement with BA and you are flying to Nigeria and you decide to fly on your own aircraft, which is not BA, but BA sold your ticket because of your cut-share agreement. BA is expecting that level of safety, the level of minimum requirement you need to meet to be able to fly that person.
So that person the in the industry, at a point in time you are trained and you have this recurrent training. You see these files all over here; for some reasons I may not call the names of the people that we do training for. They come here every twelve months for us to try them. Some of them come for different courses. So everybody is kept in check.
If you are flying Boeing 737-8 max like the one you referred to when you go for your simulator training you are trained on that plane. They give a check ride; you go out and do your full training. If you don’t pass you will not be given certificate to fly that plane.
That settles the issue of how are the people in the industry are trained and I told you the cost of training is very expensive and it is contributing to some of the challenges companies find in managing their companies because of cost. Let’s say you have a plane in that requires, three sets of crew, you need to keep them current and if you are not able to keep them current, it will impact on their duty time limitation, if there is minimum time they have to fly and all those things.
Now coming back to Boeing 737-max that you spoke about, it was not because those people were not trained on that airplane. It was discovered that it was technology that was added to this new generation plane.We have 737-700, 800, series in Nigeria but we don’t have max.
Max is the latest variant of the 737 that just entered into the market. They added some newer technology that will help in getting the plane fly more efficiently. And that was added to help the aircraft from stalling.
Stalling is when the aircraft is about to take off and for some reasons, it is unable to climb. It stalls because the aero dynamic is not maintained. So that works with a sensor and there is what measures the angle of attack. That is angle of take off into the air; that if that angle is higher than it could allow it to fly efficiently, that sensor sends signal. And this new technology helps in equalizing it so that it can fly.
So if a wrong signal is sent and it senses that oh, the angle is too sharp, let me correct it and senses it was a wrong signal, it will cause the aircraft to stall.
And that is what happened with the LAN Air and recently the Ethiopian Airline. It had nothing to do with pilots not being knowledgeable about it, because this is something that takes control automatically. It equalizes and balances it because it is the sensor that sends the signal.
However, because it is a new aircraft; any new technology that is adopted you need to give in and test and train.
Now this thing has happened. When it happened once, they are studying it. The second time it has happened now, they are going back in.
Okay, when this happens, how can we mitigate it? And they are telling you there is the need to draw and adjust and remove it from auto pilot and whatever.
This incident will be simulated in training so that when you go for your simulator training, they will now add this incident and see; how do we control it when it happens in the future.
So it becomes a new training that when people are going for the new training they would now be taught. But it is not because they are not experienced, it is because that situation was not experienced when that technology was introduced.
And it now becomes a new thing because it will now pump out of a training that is developed because of training need. And now if that technology is found to be faulty, then it is either the technology will be looked into or training that will be given whenever such thing happens, this is how you counteract it.
So with regards to what happened to 737-max, it has little to do with training or knowledge.
Yes it is a new technology; we have not experienced that before. This is just the second time it is happening and it is good a thing that drastic action has been taken so that they look into it.
It will form part of the training and part of the review of the technology.
Are there no other ways we can test run these technologies without human lives being involved?
Yeah, before they installed it, they had done it virtually. They have tried it to see that it would work but the dynamics are different.
If you are flying in the air you could have certain change of direction of the wind. You have draught; you have all those things that pull the plane. You fly through the storm, you fly through the arctic area, and you fly through different situations.
Yes it was simulated and that is why they tested it and found that it could do that adjustment. But the exact situation that it happened cannot be simulated and that is why we had that incident. Was it simulated at 10,000, 5,000 and 3, 0000? Was it simulated? It may have been simulated. Was the situation created? It may have been credited. But those situations were artificial situations that were created.
Now it is a real life. So it happened we had the aircraft stalled. The time for you to power pull the aircraft up was not enough and the aircraft went down.
So, yes that technology was brought in to assist in situation like that, but it just happened that it was not the exact situation that was replicated on that day.
And now, it will give us cause to go and study on how we can improve on what has happened. Or what does the pilot need to do when situation like this happens.
And this is the second time. And you see what happened the second time. The entire fleets are grounded. So they are taking it very seriously.
The next time a design comes out it will inculcate what has happened. That is why in aviation every accident that happens, they study it. Not because of the fun of it. It is to know what went wrong and how we can stop it from going wrong.