Why the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 Crash Investigation Is Moving to France

Mar 14, 2019

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Following Ethiopian Airlines’ request for foreign aid in investigating the data from the two black-boxes retrieved from Flight 302, France’s BEA air safety agency has confirmed that it has received the recorders from the plane.

Black boxes are considered integral evidence for aircraft crash investigations. Virtually indestructible, these data recorders contain both information on flight control and engine performance (the Flight Data Recorder) as well as conversations between pilots and between the flight deck and air traffic control (the Cockpit Voice Recorder). Aviation experts who spoke to the French news agency AFP said black box information can help explain 90 percent of all crashes.

The airline has not said however why it chose France to lead the investigation of the crash; the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and its engines were US-made, the plane was registered in Ethiopia to an Ethiopian corporation, and among the 157 victims only seven were French.

Jan-Arwed Richter, founder and managing director of the German aviation-safety consultancy JACDEC, said that it is likely due to France’s facilities and relative proximity to Ethiopia.

“Normally to reduce lengthy shipping of these sensitive devices the nearest country that can do the job will be selected,” said Richter. “One of the few countries that were ready to decode and investigate the black boxes of the MAX is France, a country whose aviation industry is cutting-edge because they produce and test modern civil aircraft as well as the United States.”

Originally, Ethiopia had looked to Germany to assist in the investigation.

“Germany said that they did not have the latest equipment to be able to download the data, so they withdrew themselves from consideration,” said John Cox, the chief executive officer of aviation consulting firm Safety Operating Systems. The facilities required to accurately investigate black-box recordings are actually pretty limited as well. Cox said that the only countries equipped are the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and, of course, France.

Since Sunday, when the aircraft went down just after taking off from Addis Ababa bound for Nairobi, US authorities have noticed some parallels between the accident and the Lion Air crash that occurred in October 2018, which killed 189 people.

However, despite a request from US air-safety officials to have the investigation handed over to the US, Ethiopian authorities decided to send the evidence to France. The Wall Street Journal reported that this had to do with concerns that US experts might have show bias or exert undue influence since Boeing is an American company with close ties to the government. “The United States should be leading the world in aviation safety,” John Samuelsen, president of the Transport Workers’ Union, told the Dallas Morning News before the US finally caved and announced, last among major nations, that it was grounding the planes. “And yet, because of the lust for profit in American aviation, we’re still flying planes that dozens of other countries and airlines have now said need to be grounded.”

The US grounded all Boeing 737 MAXs on Wednesday.

Featured image by Jemal Countess/Getty Images.

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