About the Crash

Lion Air Flight 610


In the latest news regarding the Lion Air Flight 610 disaster, data retrieved from the black box of the downed aircraft reveals that the pilot and co-pilot struggled with the aircraft “from the moment it took off” from the runway at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia.

According to preliminary reports prepared by crash investigators of the Lion Air Flight 610 disaster, the aircraft was continuously forced into a nosedive by the automated anti-stall autopilot system — the two pilots fought to maintain control by pulling back the nose of the aircraft.  This struggle involved over 24 nose-altitude modulations and lasted for more than 11 minutes.

Investigators believe that the data readings in the black box may lend additional support to the hypothesis that the Boeing anti-stall autopilot system (i.e., maneuvering characteristics augmentation system, or MCAS) was receiving faulty sensor data from the angle-of-attack sensors (AOA sensors) on the fuselage of the aircraft.  This would have caused the system to kick in, forcing the plane into a nosedive to correct what it perceived to be a potential stalling hazard.

Source: New York Times

About the Airline

Lion Air is a low-cost carrier with a poor safety record in Indonesia which has an inconsistent aviation safety record of its own.  Since it began operations in 2000, Lion Air has experienced over 15 major safety episodes.  Still, despite its unfortunate track record for passenger safety, Lion Air controls a majority of the domestic aviation market in Indonesia.

Source: New York Times

About the Aircraft

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 is a relatively new aircraft that had only been in global service for 18 months — reporters have noted that Boeing marketed the 737 Max 8 as “the world’s most reliable airplane.”  Lion Air Flight 610 is the first fatal incident involving the 737 Max 8.

The 737 Max 8 is the most recent variant of the popular 737 Max series, with extended range when compared to the standard model, reduced carbon emissions, and reduced cabin noise.  Lion Air was among the many low-cost carriers lining up to purchase the 737 Max 8, and spent $22.4 billion to purchase 201 of the Boeing 737 Max 8s.  Lion Air currently has only eight aircraft in operation at this time, however.

In the wake of the Lion Air Flight 610 disaster, the new MCAS system introduced with the 737 Max 8 has come under fire from pilots and industry observers alike.  This is due to the fact that the flight manual does not include the necessary information for disabling the automated system in the event the aircraft is forced into a “feedback loop” from incorrect sensor data.  Boeing has since issued revisions, but has argued that the lack of knowledge regarding the new MCAS system may be a “training issue.”

In a news conference held by the Indonesian Transportation Ministry, officials noted that investigators had concluded that the aircraft was not airworthy.  In fact, investigators reported that the aircraft was not airworthy during its second-to-last flight (returning to Jakarta from Bali).  Reportedly, once the aircraft landed in Jakarta (from Bali), a Lion Air technician assessed the problematic aircraft and made a fatal error: determining that Lion Air Flight 610 was airworthy.

Shortly before the Bali-Jakarta flight, Lion Air Flight 610 had a malfunctioning AOA sensor replaced due to the pilots reporting incorrect sensor data in four prior flights.  The quick replacement of the AOA sensor does not appear to have resolved the defect.  An unnamed aviation safety expert pointed out that, “It’s looking like it could be a botched repair.”

Currently, all Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft are grounded in Indonesia until further notice.

Source: Wall Street Journal, CNN, The Guardian

About the Pilot

Lion Air has released the names of the flight’s captain and co-pilot.  The captain was Bhavye Suneja, an Indian national who lived in Jakarta, and who has over seven years of experience flying with Lion Air (and over 6,000 flight hours).  His co-pilot was Harvino, who had more than 5,000 flight hours logged.

It should be noted that Captain Suneja and his co-pilot Harvino were not the same team to fly the aircraft earlier on the flight from Bali to Jakarta, which experienced similar problems with its sensor data and MCAS system (that eventually resolved).  That pilot — as of yet unnamed — had originally requested a return to Denpasar airport in Bali due to the technical issue, but eventually continued on to Jakarta and reported that the issues had “resolved.”  The failure by the previous pilot to follow-through with a report of the problems he experienced could have contributed to the fact that Lion Air Flight 610 was subsequently allowed to be flown by Captain Suneja and Harvino .

Source: The Guardian