Boeing’s Role in the 2009 Turkish Airlines Crash

A recent report by the American newspaper New York Times has claimed that a new finding suggests that American and Dutch authorities hid the real reason behind the 2009 crash of a Turkish Airlines plane in the Netherlands. The allegation comes at a point when the American manufacturer is suffering heavy economic losses and the loss of trust due to two deadly incidents in 2018 and 2019. This news may come as the ultimate blow for the company and it may also raise questions on how investigations are carried out.

On 25 February 2009, a Turkish Airlines aircraft crashed at the Netherlands’ Schipol Airport, killing nine people and injuring 117 others. The report by authorities claimed that the main cause of the incident was the pilots’ fault. The report mentioned that during the moment of the plane’s landing, the two altimeters of the plane were showing different values which caused a malfunction in the aircraft’s autopilot system. The main responsibility, in this case, was related to the pilots as they did not intervene to fix the issue but no other problem was pointed out in the findings. However, the New York Times article stressed that some aviation safety experts, such as Dr Sidney Dekker, accused Boeing of concealing their risky design choices and faulty safety assessments as the company didn’t inform pilots before the malfunction occurred. Furthermore, the necessary information for pilots to prevent this malfunction wasn’t included in pilot guidebooks according to the latest findings. The New York Times said that American authorities changed the details on the report to prevent any accusations against Boeing. A professor from Ohio State University and advisor to Federal Aviation Administration David Woods mentioned that “the Turkish Airlines accident should have awakened everyone.”

Nine years after the Turkish Airlines crash at Schipol airport, another incident shocked the world when a Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java sea soon after taking off from Jakarta. All 189 people on board were killed. This was the first crash that involved the 737 Max 8 aircrafts introduced in 2017. Initial reports after the crash suggested that the aircraft’s airspeed indicators malfunctioned, similar to the 2009 crash. The system failure was again related to design flaw, where the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System of the 737 Max series caused an automatic nose-down trim. Following the reports, both the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing warned all operators on how to avoid such events to prevent another crash such as the Lion Air Flight 610. However, like some global task forces claimed, Boeing failed to sufficiently explain the malfunctions related to the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System, and after only five months, another fatal crash took place, which again involved a Boeing aircraft.

The Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi on 10 March 2019 crashed only six minutes after taking off. All 157 people on board the flight lost their lives. The Boeing 737 Max 8 was again at the centre of controversy. Following both incidents related to the same aircraft, a majority of airline companies started grounding Boeing 737 Max 8 aircrafts and cancelled their orders from the American manufacturer. Initial studies on the black box of the plane showed clear similarities with the Lion Air Flight 610 crash and again the system forced the aircraft to perform an automatic nose-down trim. Pilots failed to respond to the event. Despite the lack of action by the pilots, acclaimed pilot Chesley Sullenberger defended them, sayıng: “Even knowing what was going to happen, I could see how crews would have run out of time and altitude before they could have solved the problems.”

A total of 355 people were killed in three crashes related to Boeing and all of the cases were caused by similar malfunctions according to the findings. The New York Times article claimed the similarities between these three events (sensor failure) and said that if the reason behind the 2009 crash was aired transparently, the following two deadly incidents could have been prevented. The New York Times article will again draw attention to Boeing’s design choices and faulty safety assessments, initiating a new test of trust for the American giant. However, the credibility of investigators will also be questioned by the public and the power of aircraft companies and their influence will also become a serious matter of investigation. The theory of parallelism between the crashes emerging from these claims and the real link between the incidents will emerge after a series of investigations is conducted appropriately on the matter. Despite these needs, the news is perhaps filling the gaps on some unanswered questions from 2009. The former CEO of Turkish Airlines, Temel Kotil at that time claimed that Dutch authorities prevented Turkish Airlines officials to reach the crash site by handcuffing them. The event caused many conspiracy theories at the time, with some media outlets claiming the involvement of the FBI in the event.

Many years have passed since the Turkish Airlines crash but the New York Times article may reopen some closed cases to find new details about the three deadly crashes. Of course, it is difficult to forecast what action authorities might take next and whether new investigations will be carried out. However, what people are now asking is what measures authorities might take and whether new investigations will be carried out? What remains certain though is people asking themselves, “would it have been possible to prevent the deaths of over 300 people if they had taken the case of Turkish Airlines seriously?”