Investigators believe they know what caused an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 to crash, leading to the deaths of the 149 passengers and eight crew members onboard.
After examining the “black box” recorders from Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, investigators believe the culprit was a malfunctioning sensor that caused an automated anti-stall flight-control feature, called MCAS, to take over, wresting control from the plane’s pilots. MCAS automatically points the plane’s nose down to stop it stalling, which is typically an important safety feature, but when it glitches, it can have deadly results. Investigators believe it was the same system that led to a Lion Air flight to crash in Indonesia less than five months earlier.
While the preliminary findings are subject to revisions, Boeing has already announced plans to overhaul the MCAS system on the now-grounded plane. According to the Wall Street Journal, the system update will now make it easier for pilots to override anti-stall software–as well as use two sensors instead of one to make the system less likely to be set off by incorrect data. Boeing will also give pilots extra training on the software and the FAA will mandate certain cockpit alerts about incorrect sensor data.
While Boeing–and the many airlines who fly the 737 MAX planes–are eager to get the planes back in the air, the upgrade must be approved by regulators, whose role has itself come under scrutiny for allegedly “doing safety on the cheap,” as Senator Richard Blumenthal put it.