ZHUHAI, China/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Boeing Co said on Wednesday it had issued a safety bulletin reminding pilots how to handle erroneous data from a key sensor in the wake of last week’s crash in Indonesia.
FILE PHOTO: An Indonesian National Transportation Safety Commission (KNKT) official examines a turbine engine from the Lion Air flight JT610 at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta
The U.S. planemaker said investigators probing the Lion Air crash off the coast of Indonesia, in which all 189 on board were killed, had found that one of the “angle of attack” sensors on the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft had provided erroneous data.
Experts say the angle of attack is a crucial parameter that helps the aircraft’s systems understand whether its nose is too high relative to the current of air – a phenomenon that can throw the plane into an aerodynamic stall and make it fall.
Some modern aircraft have systems designed to correct the posture of the wings automatically to keep flying safely.
There are also procedures for pilots to follow in the event of missing data from damaged sensors on the fuselage skin, but it remains unclear how much time the crew of flight JT610 had to respond at the relatively low level at which they were flying.
Boeing said its bulletin underscored “existing flight crew procedures” designed to address circumstances where the information coming into the cockpit from the sensors was wrong.
The Boeing 737 MAX has three such sensors but erroneous readings could in some circumstances cause the Boeing 737 MAX to point the nose down sharply in order to keep air under the wings and avoid a stall, according to a person briefed on the matter.
A source said on condition of anonymity that the Boeing bulletin related only to the 737 MAX, of which there are just over 200 in service.
Service bulletins can be followed by airworthiness directives to airlines by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, giving the recommendations extra weight.
Boeing has delivered 219 737 MAX jets to customers globally, with 4,564 orders for jets yet to be delivered.
The Boeing 737 MAX is a more fuel-efficient version of the manufacturer’s best-selling single-aisle 737 series.
The Lion Air crash was the first involving the new version, which airlines introduced into service last year.
Indonesian authorities have downloaded information from the flight data recorder that showed a cockpit indicator on the Lion Air jet was damaged for its last four flights.
A search for the cockpit voice recorder, the second so-called “black box”, remains underway.
Reporting by Tim Hepher and David Shepardson; additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Zhuhai, China, Jamie Freed in Singapore, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Cindy Silviana in Jakarta; Editing by Himani Sarkar