Lion Air Investigation Stalled By Lack Of Money

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Thanks to budget constraints and bureaucratic wrangling, investigators still haven’t recovered the cockpit voice recorder from a Lion Air 737 MAX that crashed into the Java Sea off Jakarta six weeks ago. Indonesian investigators told Reuters this week that they need a specialized ship to find the CVR. “We don’t have further funds to rent the ship,” a source told the news agency.

Lion Air JT610 crashed into the Java Sea off Jakarta on Oct. 29, killing all 189 people aboard. The 737 MAX’s flight data recorder was recovered quickly and an initial report based on its data was released in late November.

Investigators initially said the aircraft wasn’t airworthy but later clarified that claim by saying press reports misinterpreted the initial findings. The crash, the first of Boeing’s new MAX design, shed light on Boeing’s failure to fully document a new autotrim and stall protection system called MCAS. It automatically rolls in nose-down stabilizer trim if the aircraft flight computer senses impending stall angle of attack.

The initial report said the flight data showed that MCAS—Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System—was active during the minutes leading up the crash. Investigators say they need to retrieve the CVR to determine how the crew was diagnosing and reacting to what appears to be a faulty angle-of-attack sensor.

Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee says it needs a specialized ship to retrieve the wreckage believed to contain the CVR, but thus far hasn’t produced the money to pay for it. The airline may be asked to foot the bill.

Meanwhile, the airline is sticking to its plan to cancel $22 billion worth of orders to Boeing because it’s unhappy with the plane maker’s response to the crash. Still, the airline’s co-founder, Rusdi Kirana, told Bloomberg News that despite scrapping the Boeing orders, the company still plans to continue expanding its fleet.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Lion Air crash has prompted some airlines flying the MAX to reconsider their training programs and add tasks related to MCAS and runaway trim conditions. Pilot unions for at least two U.S. airlines complained that crews weren't adequately briefed about MCAS and Boeing responded by sending technical representatives to mend fences.