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Boeing knew of 737 MAX safety system glitch year before deadly crash

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Boeing Co did not tell US regulators for more than a year that it inadvertently made an alarm alerting pilots to a mismatch of flight data optional on the 737 MAX, instead of standard as on earlier 737s, but insisted on Sunday the missing display represented no safety risk

The US plane maker has been trying for weeks to dispel suggestions that it made airlines pay for safety features after it emerged that an alert designed to show discrepancies in Angle of Attack readings from two sensors was optional on the 737 MAX.

Erroneous data from a sensor responsible for measuring the angle at which the wing slices through the air – known as the Angle of Attack – is suspected of triggering a flawed piece of software that pushed the plane downward in two recent crashes.

In a statement, Boeing said it only discovered once deliveries of the 737 MAX had begun in 2017 that the so-called AOA Disagree alert was optional instead of standard as it had intended, but added that was not critical safety data.

A Federal Aviation Administration official told Reuters on Sunday that Boeing waited 13 months before informing the agency in November 2018.

By becoming optional, the alert had been treated in the same way as a separate indicator showing raw AOA data, which is seldom used by commercial pilots and had been an add-on for years.

“Neither the angle of attack indicator nor the AOA Disagree alert are necessary for the safe operation of the airplane,” Boeing said.

“They provide supplemental information only, and have never been considered safety features on commercial jet transport airplanes.”

Boeing said a Safety Review Board convened after a fatal Lion Air crash in Indonesia last October corroborated its prior conclusion that the alert was not necessary for the safe operation of commercial aircraft and could safely be tackled in a future system update.

The FAA backed that assessment but criticized Boeing for being slow to disclose the problem.

Boeing briefed the FAA on the display issue in November, after the Lion Air accident, and a special panel deemed it to be “low risk,” an FAA spokesman said.

“However, Boeing’s timely or earlier communication with the operators would have helped to reduce or eliminate possible confusion,” he added.

Boeing attributed the error to software delivered to the company from an outside source, but did not give details.

INDUSTRY DEBATE

Sunday’s statement marked the first time since the two fatal accidents that Boeing explicitly acknowledged doing something inadvertently in the development of the 737 MAX, albeit on an issue that it contends has no impact on safety.

Boeing has said the feeding of erroneous Angle of Attack data to a system called MCAS that pushed the planes lower was a common link in two wider chains of events leading to both crashes, but has stopped short of admitting error on that front.

The angle of attack measures the angle between the air flow and the wing and helps determine whether the plane is able to fly correctly. If the angle becomes too steep, the flow of air over the wing is disturbed, throwing the plane into an aerodynamic stall. That means it starts to fall instead of fly.

Although the angle itself is key for onboard systems, the industry has debated for years whether such data should be included in already crowded cockpit displays because it is directly related to airspeed, which pilots already scrutinize.

Some analysts and academics say having the AOA Disagree alert installed would have helped Lion Air maintenance crew diagnose a problem on the penultimate flight of the 737 MAX jet that crashed in October, killing all 189 on board.

The 737 MAX was grounded worldwide over safety concerns following the Ethiopian crash in March, killing 157 people.

When the jet returns to service, all new aircraft will have a working AOA Disagree alert as a standard feature and a no-charge optional indicator showing the underlying data, Boeing said. That restores the situation found on the displays of previous 737NG models since around the middle of last decade.

Airlines with grounded 737 MAX jets will be able to activate the AOA Disagree function directly.

Boeing is also developing a software upgrade and training changes to the MCAS system that must be approved by global regulators before the jets can fly again.

Boeing has yet to formally submit the upgrades to the FAA for approval but could do as early as this week once it completes a special test flight.

Federal prosecutors, the Transportation Department inspector general’s office and a blue-ribbon panel are also looking into the 737 MAX’s certification. A U.S. House of Representatives panel will hold a hearing on the plane’s status with the FAA’s acting chief, Dan Elwell, and National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt on May 15.

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Brazil sends Army to fight Amazon fires; Donald Trump tweets support

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Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said he’s sending troops to battle fires roaring through vast expanses of the Amazon as President Donald Trump offered U.S. support to combat the disaster.

Under growing domestic and international pressure, Bolsonaro on Friday promised “zero tolerance” for environmental crimes and pledged “strong action” to control fires — many of them set by loggers emboldened by his government’s disdain for environmental oversight.

“Forest fires exist everywhere in the world and that can’t be used as pretext for possible international sanctions,” he said in a rare televised speech, adding the flames have been spreading faster this year because of high temperatures, an extremely dry season, and strong winds.

Trump tweeted on Friday evening that that he had spoken with Bolsonaro about the fires and trade between the two countries. His tweet appeared hours after French President Emmanuel Macron — who’s about to host the Group of Seven summit — accused Bolsonaro of lying about his country’s commitments to fight climate change and threatened to block the European Union’s trade deal with the Mercosur countries of South America.

“Our future Trade prospects are very exciting and our relationship is strong, perhaps stronger than ever before,” Trump said in the tweet. “I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon Rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!”

Macron vowed to make the burning of the Amazon jungle a priority at the summit, but the reactions of not only Trump, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel, suggested that the leaders about to gather in the French seaside resort of Biarritz were not in harmony on the crisis.

Merkel publicly disagreed with Macron. Her spokesman told Bloomberg News that she didn’t think upending the trade deal would achieve Macron’s aim of slowing deforestation in Brazil. Merkel’s spokesman, however, did back Macron’s decision to involve the international community, siding with him against Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro faces outrage abroad and at home, with protesters marching against him in Brazil’s main cities.

After a week in which the public outcry only grew louder — and as images of the flames and giant clouds of smoke continued to appear on screens around the world — he decided to deploy the Brazilian army to the Amazon. The president’s decree ordered the armed forces to carry out “preventive and repressive actions against environmental crimes” and to combat fires in the region, including indigenous territories.

“I had today an excellent conversation with President @realDonaldTrump,” Bolsonaro tweeted on Friday night. “Relations between Brazil and the U.S. are better than ever. We have a mutual desire to launch a big trade negotiation soon, aimed at promoting our peoples’ prosperity.”

Earlier Friday, the French president’s office said that it had become clear that Bolsonaro wasn’t serious about his pledges to address climate change when he spoke to world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka earlier this year.

“The president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him in Osaka,” the statement said. “Under these conditions, France is opposed to the Mercosur deal.”

The French president’s remarks provoked an angry response from Bolsonaro, who accused him of acting like a colonialist. Issues relating to Brazil should not be discussed without the country at the table, Bolsonaro added.

“The news is really worrisome, but we need to lower the temperature, there are fires in Brazil every year,” Brazilian Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias told reporters in Brasilia. “There were fires in Portugal, in Siberia, there were fires all over the world and Brazil wasn’t questioning them.”

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Photos: Robot waiters serving food at Bengaluru’s first Robot Restaurant

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Service robots line up in a corridor on the opening day of the “Robot” restaurant. These robots were earlier introduced in Chennai and Coimbatore. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP)
A menu and the order tablet are seen on the table of the “Robot” restaurant. Every table has a digital tablet, and one has to jut pick and choose, order and await their turn. Once the food was ready, the kitchen assigns a robot. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP)
A service robot delivers food to customers. On a digitally marked out path the robot heads out with the food neatly arranged on a tray. At the assigned table, she turns to greet and guide the customer to pick up the dish. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP)
Customers take pictures with a service robot. The robots are interactive and are programmed to sing birthday wishes and wishes for special occasions. So, for the Saturday launch, every robot wore a scarf and a name. The names are both dynamic and customizable. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP)
The robots are programmed to work efficiently and the staff has also undergone training from the manufacturers to attend to any issues that may arise over the course of operations. While the restaurant holds a unique appeal with its robot servers, it also lends a glimpse into one possible future for hospitality businesses and the mechanization of workforces.  (Manjunath Kiran / AFP)

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First moon image captured by Chandrayaan-2 released by ISRO

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Chandrayaan-2 on Thursday beamed the first image captured by the Vikram Lander after it entered the lunar orbit earlier this week. The image was taken at a height of about 2650 km from lumar surface.

Mare Orientale basin and Apollo craters are identified in the picture.

The crucial process of taking up soft landing of the lander ‘Vikram’ onboard the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft will be taken up in the early hours of September 7, ISRO Chairman K Sivan said today.

Chandrayaan-2, launched on July 22 by India’s most powerful rocket GSLV MkIII-M1, had entered the Lunar Transfer Trajectory on August 14, leaving the Earth orbit.

It comprises an Orbiter, Lander (Vikram), named after the father of Indian space research programme Dr Vikram A Sarabhai, and Rover (Pragyan).

The rover is set to make the soft landing on the Moon on September 7 and if successful the mission would make India the fourth country after Russia, the US and China to achieve the feat.

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