Boeing 'sorry' for 737 Max crashes but defends its safety features

Planemaker reviews model's software as Ethiopian authorities say faults led to crash despite pilots following emergency procedures

FILE: Dennis Muilenburg, chief executive officer of the Boeing Co., gestures during a discussion at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce aviation summit in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 2, 2017. Boeing Co. Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg apologized Thursday for the 346 lives lost in crashes of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in Indonesia and Ethiopia, according to a letter made public on the company's website. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
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Boeing has defended the safety features of its popular 737 Max model, which has been involved in two fatal crashes, even as it vowed to undertake changes to eliminate risk.

The American planemaker's chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said the company was "sorry" for the lives lost in the recent accidents in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

"These tragedies continue to weigh heavily on our hearts and minds," he said in a video tweeted on Thursday.

"We remain confident in the fundamental safety of the 737 MAX," he added.

"As pilots have told us, erroneous activation of the MCAS function can add to what is already a high workload environment. It's our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it and we know how to do it," he added.

MCAS refers to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System that has been blamed for triggering the nosedive of the crashed Ethiopian Airlines 302 in March as well as the Lion Air Flight 610.

Ethiopian Airlines on Wednesday released a report saying that the doomed aircraft with 157 on board persistently nosedived in spite of the pilots following Boeing's emergency procedures.

Without blaming the US company, which has seen its most popular model banned in several countries following the crashes, the Ethiopian transport authorities recommended Boeing review its software.

"Despite their hard work and full compliance with the emergency procedures, it was very unfortunate that they could not recover the airplane from the persistence of nosediving," the airline had said.

Boeing in its response said it was taking "a comprehensive, disciplined approach" to get the software update right.

Meanwhile, federal aviation authorities ordered the US company on Thursday to fix a second problem affecting flaps and flight-control hardware that are critical to flight safety.

On March 10 Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed into arid farmland near Addis Ababa, killing 149 passengers and eight crew from 33 countries. Many of them were travelling to a UN conference in Nairobi.

The 737 Max 8 – Boeing's most successful model – faced intense scrutiny following the crash, leading to a worldwide grounding of the plane, given the similarities between two deadly crashes using the same model.

Last year, a 737 Max 8 operated by Indonesia's Lion Air crashed, killing 189 people. The preliminary report into the Lion Air crash found that an anti-stall feature activated when it was not supposed to.

Both pilots in the Ethiopian Airlines crash underwent additional training following the Lion Air incident.