Doomed Lion Air jet was "not airworthy" on penultimate flight

Aaron Brown
November 29, 2018

Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) sub-committee head for air accidents, Nurcahyo Utomo, holds a model airplane while speaking during a news conference on its investigation into a Lion Air plane crash last month, in Jakarta, Indonesia November 28, 2018.

Pilots flying the same plane a day earlier had experienced a similar problem, en route from Denpasar, Bali, to Jakarta, until they used switches to shut off the system and used manual controls to fly and stabilize the plane, KNKT said.

The Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee, which produced the report, also noted that the Jakarta-based low-priced airline, Lion Air, should improve its "safety culture".

Although the initial report doesn't assign definitive cause to the accident, the NTSC was blunt about the airline's maintenance: "In our opinion, the plane was no longer airworthy and it should not have continued", Nurcahyo Utomo, the NTSC's aviation lead, told reporters at a press briefing on Wednesday in Indonesia.

One of the victims' family are suing Boeing, and accuse the aircraft manufacturer of failing to inform the pilots of the new anti-stalling feature on its 737 Max plane system that could "push the nose down unexpectedly".

The 737 Max is a new version of Boeing's original 737 and has become its fastest selling plane.

Aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas called the report "very comprehensive" and said that he could not understand why Lion Air had deemed the plane suitable for service.

It is not clear if the pilots attempted the runaway stabiliser procedure.

There were other issues pervading the aircraft, pertaining to its airspeed and altitude sensors, the report noted.

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Anti-stall systems prevent a plane from pointing upwards at too high an angle, where it could lose its lift.

The KNKT said MCAS was not described in the Lion Air flight manual before the crash, nor in those used by American airlines according to USA pilot unions.

The black box data is consistent with the theory so far on what happened to Flight 610: Sensors on the fuselage sent incorrect information to the plane's anti-stall system and, due to that erroneous information, the system forced the nose down again and again.

The preliminary report does not say whether pilots on the deadly flight took those steps, Boeing pointed out.

The plane experienced technical problems in four earlier flights. Peter Lemme, a satellite communications consultant and former Boeing engineer, published an unofficial analysis of the flight data recorder's readings on Friday, based on an internal presentation made by Indonesian investigators.

However, they managed to land the plane safely after requesting an uninterrupted descent, and the problems were logged. But a Boeing spokesperson said that "the appropriate flight crew response to uncommanded trim, regardless of cause, is contained in existing procedures" within the flight manual for the 737 MAX, and company officials felt that additional details of the new system weren't necessary.

After the crash, Lion Air instructed pilots to provide a "full comprehensive description" of technical defects to the engineering team, KNKT said.

The Indonesian investigation is continuing with help from US regulators and Boeing.

Indonesia's aviation safety record has improved since its airlines, including national carrier Garuda, were subject to years-long bans from U.S. and European airspace for safety violations, although it has still recorded 40 fatal accidents over the past 15 years.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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