Pilots Of Doomed Boeing 737 Had 40 Seconds To Fix Error, Test Suggests

The Lion Air's pilots reportedly flipped through a manual to find help instead of disengaging the system.

The pilots of one of two doomed Boeing 737 Max jets likely had just 40 seconds to override an automated system and avert disaster, The New York Times reported as the U.S. Department of Transportation announced new watchdog efforts to improve aviation safety.

According to flight simulation tests reviewed by the Times that re-created the Lion Air plane’s fatal crash, a single sensor failed during the October flight. This triggered an automated system that was designed to help prevent a stall but instead sent the plane into a nosedive.

The pilots would have had less than a minute to disengage the system. During the flight’s final moments, however, cockpit voice recordings captured the plane’s pilots flipping through a technical manual in an attempt to understand what was happening, as Reuters previously reported. 

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 is seen grounded at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Saturday.
An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 is seen grounded at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Saturday.

Boeing has faced criticism over whether its pilots were properly trained, with the company’s CEO, Dennis A. Muilenburg, having boasted late last year that his planes required less training.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday said it will set up a new committee of experts that will independently review the Federal Aviation Administration and how it certifies new aircraft, including the Boeing 737 Max.

“Safety is the number one priority of the Department, and this review by leading outside experts will help determine if improvements can be made to the FAA aircraft certification process,” said Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.

The FAA has been under the microscope over concerns that it gave Boeing too much authority in judging its own safety. It was widely criticized for its slow decision to ground all Boeing 737 Max planes in the wake of this month’s Ethiopian Airlines crash, which was the second Boeing 737 Max crash within five months. The U.S was one of the last countries to do so.

Boeing on Monday said it will begin to offer free software upgrades to all of its airlines in an effort to prevent future catastrophes. The safety software was previously offered to airlines at an additional cost.

The upgrading process for each Boeing 737 Max takes about an hour, a senior FAA official, described as having knowledge of the process, told Reuters.