Ethiopia has sent black boxes from a crashed Boeing 737 jet to France for decoding after refusing to hand them to US authorities after the nation had allowed the Max model to continue flying after most other regulators grounded it.
The flight-data and cockpit-voice recorders have arrived at the Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses, France’s air-accident investigator, with coordination meetings underway and technical work set to start Friday. The BEA said it will download data but hasn’t been asked to analyze it.
Ethiopian Airlines, which operated the crashed jet, says the decision to send the black boxes to a European agency was a strategic one after the Federal Aviation Administration was left isolated in arguing that the Max should continue flying. The US regulator finally grounded the model Wednesday amid mounting concern about similarities between the African tragedy and a crash in Indonesia, in which a computer system took control of a flight.
Germany’s Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation earlier declined to work on the boxes, saying it wasn’t technically possible. France has a direct link to the crash, which killed 157, since the Max’s engines are made by the CFM International venture of General Electric and Paris-based Safran.
The choice of the BEA for the decoding of the recorders still represents a snub for US regulators used to taking a leading role in probes of Boeing planes. The National Transportation Safety Board will still have a role given that the 737 is made in Seattle, and plans to send three investigators to France to help the BEA with the downloading and analysis, according to a statement.
The NTSB also emphasized its own ‘‘expertise in recorders, flight crew operations, and human factors,’’ and stressed that the Ethiopian Aircraft Accident Investigations Bureau remains in charge of the investigation. The Washington-based agency already has officials in Addis Ababa, assisted by advisers from the FAA, Boeing and GE/Safran.
The BEA made headlines in 2011 when it took just weeks to recover the full contents of data and voice recorders from an Air France plane after the devices had spent two years in 12,800 feet of seawater. The breakthrough helped explain the worst accident in the carrier’s history.
French President Emmanuel Macron has meanwhile held discussions with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed about a new contract for Toulouse-based Airbus as part of a renewal of the Ethiopian Airlines fleet, a French official said Thursday.
Though the African carrier already operates the European planemaker’s A350 wide-body, all of its other jets are Boeings, including 787 Dreamliners for which it was one of the first global customers, and a variety of 737s.