Ethiopian Airlines Had a Max 8 Simulator, but Pilot on Doomed Flight Didn’t Receive Training On It

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By Selam Gebrekidan

New York Times

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopian Airlines surpassed many carriers by becoming one of the first to install a simulator to teach pilots how to fly the new Boeing 737 Max 8, but the captain of the doomed Flight 302 never trained on the simulator, according to people close to the airline’s operations.

The people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Ethiopian Airlines had not authorized disclosure of the information, said the carrier had the Max 8 simulator up and running in January, two months before Flight 302 crashed.

Boeing has said that experienced 737 pilots needed little training for the new Max 8, an assertion that has now come under close scrutiny by regulatory officials and pilots at other airlines. Two of the planes have fatally crashed in the past five months, and regulators around the world grounded all Max 8s last week.

The pilot of Flight 302, Yared Getachew, who had 8,000 hours of flying experience including on the 737, took a refresher course on a different simulator in late September and early October, according to one person familiar with the airline, and was not due for another round of simulator training until after the crash on March 10.

It was unclear if the second pilot on Flight 302, the co-pilot, had trained on the Max 8 simulator. Nor was it clear if the airline had used the simulator for refresher courses it requires pilots to take every six months, or only to train new pilots.

Still, use of the simulator by Ethiopian Airlines means the carrier was among the few in the world that not only had a working simulator for Boeing Max jets but was using it a few months after the first Max 8 crash, Lion Air Flight 610.

Despite Boeing’s assertions that the plane was safe, the crashes have raised questions about whether Boeing and its American regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration, did enough to train pilots on how to deal with the Max 8’s new features, in particular an automated system to prevent stalls known as MCAS.

Hours after this article was published, Ethiopian Airlines tweeted a statement challenging what it described as “wrong reporting” without specifying what was incorrect.

The statement said its pilots had been “made aware” and had been “well briefed on” an emergency directive issued by the F.A.A. following the Lion Air accident. The airline also said that its simulator “is not designed to simulate the MCAS system problems.”

The airline’s statement did not include information on the captain’s simulator training. However, its statement said that its pilots had completed “differences training” recommended by Boeing and approved by the F.A.A. before they switched to flying the Max 8 jets from an earlier Boeing 737 model.

The New York Times issued a statement that it stood by the reporting in the article.

Boeing said that pilots who had flown earlier models did not need additional simulator training, and even after the October crash in Indonesia, the F.A.A. agreed.

Many pilots learned the new features of the Boeing Max on an iPad, and many were not originally informed of the existence of the automated system, which can push the plane’s nose down if it is approaching a stall.

The Ethiopian and Lion Air flights crashed minutes after takeoff and showed similar up-and-down oscillations before fatal nose-dives. A central focus of the Indonesian investigation is the possibility that the automated system pushed the nose down into a fatal dive because of inaccurate input from a sensor.

The Ethiopian Flight 302 crash killed all 157 aboard and the Lion Air Flight 610 crash killed all 189.

Even if both pilots on Flight 302 had trained on the simulator, it is unclear if such preparation would have included maneuvers to deal with the kinds of problems they may have faced.

In a bulletin issued in November, Boeing said that emergency procedures that applied to earlier 737 models would have corrected the problems that may have contributed to the Max 8 crash in Indonesia.

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