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Lion Air pilots battled doomed jet's computerized safety system, black box shows

01 December 2018

Lion Air pilots struggled to maintain control of a Boeing jet before it plunged into the Java Sea last month, black box data has found.

The Boeing 737 crashed into the sea on October 29, minutes after taking off in Jakarta.

This was in accordance with the runaway stabilizer non-normal checklist in the 737 MAX Flight Crew Operations Manual and was the procedure that was the subject a Boeing bulletin and a US Federal Aviation Administration emergency airworthiness directive.

That end came after a battle between its flight crew and a computerized control system that repeatedly tilted the plane downward because of a malfunctioning sensor, according to the report.

The findings by the National Transport Safety Committee (KNKT) suggest that Lion Air put the plane back into service despite it having had problems on earlier flights.

Sensors that measure speed were flushed and checked, and an electrical plug was cleaned before the fatal flight.

Eleven minutes into the flight, the captain told air traffic control that the jet's altitude could not be determined as instruments were giving different readings.

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"The flight from Denpasar to Jakarta experienced stick shaker activation during the takeoff rotation and remained active throughout the flight", the report said. Since the crash, other pilots have criticized Boeing for not providing enough detail and training, a charge.

The report discussed Lion Air's maintenance practices and an anti-stall system in the aircraft; investigators said it was "too early" to identify a firm cause for the crash.

Pilots expressed concern about the changing nature of the controls and Boeing's delayed disclosure of the change. The safety software known as Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, which lowers the nose in some conditions without pilot inputs, apparently relied on a single angle-of-attack sensor.

The main intent of MCAS is to make the MAX respond to a stall in a way pilots would find consistent with other 737 models.

The plane's automatic safety system repeatedly pushed the plane's nose down, according to a draft of a preliminary report by Indonesian authorities.

When they reached Jakarta that night, they logged various problems with the plane, but didn't say the shaker had been activated.

Investigators have not located the jet's cockpit voice recorder, which could provide insight into the pilots' last actions.

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Lion Air President Director Edward Sirait said the crashed jet was certified airworthy by technicians in its final two trips and the airline was concerned about some reports to the contrary. But crash investigators say the faulty sensor was a recurring problem and after being replaced still malfunctioned the day before the crash.

"They will be looking for more precise reporting of problems (by pilots), and certainly a better maintenance response", she said.

Peter Lemme, an expert in aviation and satellite communications and a former Boeing engineer who wrote an analysis of the data on his blog, likened the problems to "a deadly game of tag" in which the plane pointed down, the pilots countered by manually aiming the nose higher, only for the sequence to repeat about five seconds later.

The preliminary report did not assign blame, but did list new safety recommendations to Lion Air - "on top of earlier recommendations about the flight manual that have already been implemented by Boeing", Reuters reports.

Indonesian investigators expect to fly to the US later this week to gather more information about the Boeing aircraft and its components, including discussing the MCAS safety feature with Boeing engineers to understand how it may have contributed to the accident, Utomo said.

A fuller account of problems with the sensors on the fuselage, called angle-of-attack sensors, is expected to be part of a full report on the crash by Indonesian investigators.

He explained that the AoA unit that was installed in the ill-fated airplane had previously been fixed by Boeing in Florida.

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Lion Air pilots battled doomed jet's computerized safety system, black box shows