"On November 6, 2018, Boeing issued an Operations Manual Bulletin (OMB) directing operators to existing flight crew procedures to address circumstances where there is erroneous input from an AOA sensor", the company's statement said. AOA sensor inputs are then crucial because it forewarns a pilot about a possible stall due to a high AOA. The information can be critical in preventing the plane from stalling.
Investigators probing the Lion Air crash off the coast of Indonesia, in which all 189 on board were killed, found that one of the "angle of attack" sensors on the Boeing 737 Max jet provided erroneous data. Moments earlier, the pilots radioed a request to return to Jakarta to land, but never turned back toward the airport, according to Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee and flight-track data. Chairman Soerjanto Tjahjono said the airspeed indicator and sensor problems are related.
"The FAA continues to work closely with Boeing, and as a part of the investigative team on the Indonesia Lion Air accident, will take further appropriate actions depending on the results of the investigation", the FAA said in its alert.
Indonesian investigators said Wednesday the plane had experienced instrument failures on 4 flights, including on one journey where both the AOA sensor and the airspeed indicator were affected. Only the National Search and Rescue Agency will press on with the task.
Boeing has delivered 219 Max planes - the latest and most advanced 737 jets - since the new models made their commercial debut a year ago with a Lion Air subsidiary. The jet is the latest in Boeing's long line of hot-selling 737 family of narrow-body airliners.
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The Boeing 737 Max is a more fuel-efficient version of the manufacturer's best-selling single-aisle 737 series.
"We are issuing this [airworthiness directive] because we evaluated all the relevant information and determined the unsafe condition described previously is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design", the FAA wrote. Together, there are at least six such aircraft with the two carriers. But the urgency of a fatal accident can trigger a flurry of such notices. Boeing also released a bulletin about the issue on Tuesday.
Aviation regulators such as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency often follow such actions by mandating that carriers follow the bulletins.
Pilots can counteract this for up to 10 seconds at a time by pushing a switch on the airplane's controls. In addition, a system known as elevator trim can be changed to prompt nose-up or nose-down movement. The small black cylinder contains a sensor that controls the angle between the wing and the air it is moving through. A misreading in the sensor can cause a plane to dive suddenly. That case didn't involve the angle-of-attack system.
Schiavo said it's clear from flight-tracking data that the pilots fought to keep the plane up. It has been expanding aggressively in Southeast Asia, a fast-growing region of more than 600 million people.