NEWS
03/21/2019 08:08 EDT | Updated 03/21/2019 09:00 EDT

Ethiopian Airlines Captain On Doomed Flight Was Not Trained On New Simulator For 737 MAX 8

157 people died in the tragedy.

A man watches debris at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 12, 2019.
Reuters
A man watches debris at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 12, 2019.

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The captain of a doomed Ethiopian Airlines flight did not practise on a new simulator for the Boeing 737 MAX 8 before he died in a crash with 157 others, a pilot colleague said.

Yared Getachew, 29, was due for refresher training at the end of March, his colleague told Reuters, two months after Ethiopian Airlines had received one of the first such simulators being distributed.

The March 10 disaster, following another MAX 8 crash in Indonesia in October, has set off one of the biggest inquiries in aviation history, focused on the safety of a new automated system and whether crews understood it properly.

Watch: Boeing CEO vows fix after horrific crash

In both cases, the pilots lost control soon after take-off and fought a losing battle to stop their jets plunging down.

The MAX, which came into service two years ago, has a new automated system called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System). It is meant to prevent loss of lift which can cause an aerodynamic stall sending the plane downwards in an uncontrolled way.

"Boeing did not send manuals on MCAS," the Ethiopian Airlines pilot told Reuters in a hotel lobby, declining to give his name as staff have been told not to speak in public.

"Actually we know more about the MCAS system from the media than from Boeing."

Under unprecedented scrutiny and with its MAX fleet grounded worldwide, the world's largest planemaker has said airlines were given guidance on how to respond to the activation of MCAS software. It is also promising a swift update to the system.

Reuters
Airplane engine parts are seen at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 11, 2019

Globally, most commercial airline pilots refresh training in simulators every six months. In the Ethiopian crash, it was not clear if Yared's colleague - First Officer Ahmednur Mohammed, 25, who also died in the crash - had practiced on the new MAX simulator.

It was also not clear if Yared or Ahmednur would have been trained on that simulator or an older one for 737s that their airline also owned.

Ethiopian Airlines declined to comment on the remarks of its pilot to Reuters.

"I think that the differences between the 737 NG and the MAX were underplayed by Boeing," said John Cox, an aviation safety consultant, former U.S. Airways pilot and former air safety chairman of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association.

"Consequently the simulator manufacturers were not pushing it either. The operators didn't realize the magnitude of the differences," he told Reuters in a communication over the Ethiopian pilot's remarks.

The 737 MAX 8 was introduced into commercial service in 2017, but pilots of older 737s were only required to have computer-based training to switch, according to Boeing, airlines, unions and regulators.

By December, two months after the Lion Air crash that killed 189 people off Jakarta, the main simulator producer CAE Inc of Canada said it had delivered just four MAX simulators to airlines.

'Disturbing' that Boeing did not disclose new system to pilots: union

At that time, CAE had orders from airlines globally for 30 MAX simulators, which cost between $6 million and $15 million each depending on customization.

Now CAE has orders for 40 MAX simulators, a spokesman for the Canadian manufacturer told Reuters this week.

The world's largest 737 operator, Southwest Airlines Co, will not have its first MAX simulator ready for use until October, its pilot union said on Wednesday.

"It is still very disturbing to us that Boeing did not disclose MCAS to the operators and pilots," the association told members in a memo seen by Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Writing by Jamie Freed and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)