Ethiopian Airlines Had a Max 8 Simulator, but Pilot on Doomed Flight Didn’t Receive Training – AIWA! NO!
On 10 March 2019, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft which operated the flight crashed six minutes after takeoff, near the town of Bishoftu, killing all 157 people aboard. It is also the deadliest aircraft accident to occur in Ethiopia, surpassing the crash of an Ethiopian Air Force Antonov An-26 in 1982, which killed 73.
On October 29 last year, a Boeing 737 MAX airplane operated by Lion Air crashed shortly after takeoff in Indonesia, killing 189 passengers and crew. In the days after the incident, Dominic Gates, an aerospace reporter at The Seattle Times, learned from a source that Boeing, which has a huge presence around Seattle, was preparing to warn airlines of a possible instrument failure that could tip 737 MAXs into dangerous dives. Gates continued to report on potential problems with the model. What he found out was extraordinary. Managers at the Federal Aviation Administration let Boeing safety-test features of the 737 MAX itself. And current and former Boeing engineers familiar with the checks told Gates they had major flaws.
On March 6, Gates sent requests for comment to Boeing and the FAA outlining his findings about a flawed safety assessment. Boeing said it would work on providing answers. Then, on March 10, another 737 MAX, this time operated by Ethiopian Airlines, crashed six minutes after lifting off from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. Boeing quickly found itself at the center of a global media storm. Countries around the world grounded the planes; last Wednesday, the US, belatedly followed suit. Around the same time, Gates finished writing his piece about the flawed safety check—but Boeing and the FAA had still not commented, and the links between the Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes remained murky. On Thursday, Gates and three colleagues learned about, then reported, a potential similarity between the incidents based on evidence found at the Ethiopian crash site and relayed by an expert. On Friday, Gates finalized the safety-test story he’d been working on since last year, and it was published on Sunday.
Like many local news reporters in the US, Gates—a former math teacher who is now in his 16th year with The Seattle Times—works a beat dedicated to a dominant local company or industry. “To survive as a regional paper, The Seattle Times has to offer readers news it cannot get elsewhere,” Gates tells me in an email. “Since this is the home of Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks, it strives to own coverage of those mega corporations. Coverage of Boeing has historically been huge for The Seattle Times.”
There’s no shortage of national coverage of those companies—Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, and others have broken important stories on the Boeing beat. But Gates feels his local base offers him a distinct advantage. “I have sources aerospace reporters elsewhere can only dream about,” he says. “Not just inside Boeing but also its suppliers and its unions. And the FAA office responsible for certifying Boeing planes. And our readers include a very large, knowledgeable aerospace base.”
In a dire economic climate for local news, specialized beats and the reporters on them, are, logically, under threat. Reporters like Gates are reminders that America’s local newspapers can be crucial repositories of public-interest journalism. When they falter, national titles are sometimes able to pick up the slack. But we shouldn’t rely on that. The logical endpoint of America’s local-news crisis isn’t just less reporting on local courthouses and councils—it’s less scrutiny for major companies and arms of the federal government, too.
Below, more on local news:
- Gitmo: In early February, The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg, the only US reporter covering Guantanamo Bay on a full-time basis, was one of 450 employees to be offered a buyout by McClatchy, the Herald’s owner. Rosenberg, whose position at the Herald was being supported by the Pulitzer Center, subsequently left the paper for The New York Times.
- Et tu, Facebook: A Facebook service aiming to serve local news to users has been hamstrung by a lack of available local news, the company said on Monday. Facebook found that 40 percent of Americans live in areas where the service cannot be supported; it pledged to share its data with academics researching the “news desert” phenomenon. As many observers were quick to point out, the local news crisis has been greatly exacerbated by Facebook’s ad monopoly and content policies.
- Alt-alt-weeklies: Local alt-weeklies have been hit particularly hard by the dire local-news climate: last month, for example, the Seattle Weekly, for whom Gates used to write, announced it was going out of print. For CJR, Allison Braden looks at “alt-alt-weeklies”—publications that have grown from the ashes of shuttered alt-weeklies.
The New York Times
Ethiopian Airlines Had a Max 8 Simulator, but Pilot on Doomed Flight Didn’t Receive Training