Yet another chapter is to be written in the tragic, ongoing saga of the doomed EgyptAir's flight 900, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, on October 31, 1999, killing all 217 people on board.
This week an EgyptAir delegation will be handing over the airline’s official response to a US National Transportation Safety Board finding that no mechanical problem was evident in the crash. The NTSB report, which was published April 19, had suggested that that Boeing 767’s co-pilot, Gameel Al-Batouty, had deliberately caused the plane to plummet downward in a murder-suicide.
According to Shaker Qaladah, the head of EgyptAir's safety department, the airline’s response to the NTSB report will voice the company’s opposition to the April report. It will come inclusive of technical data.
Egyptian officials have theorized that the crash was caused by a mechanical failure in the tail of the Boeing 767, and have cited incidents involving other airlines to back up its contention. In particular it has raised questions about the integrity of the elevator control system, which makes the aircraft go up and down.
This possibility is vehemently rejected by the Boeing company. But in August last year, the US Federal Aviation Administration ordered airlines to inspect all Boeing 767 jetliners, after its engineers had found that routine test might not reveal a problem in part of the planes' elevator control system.
Flight 990 was flying from New York to Cairo, when at 33,000 feet (10,000 meters), its autopilot shut off, its throttles cut back and the elevators initiated a steep descent.
During the dive, the engines shut down and the elevators moved in opposite directions.
In a transcript of the cockpit recorder released by the NTSB, Al-Batouti, who it is believed was alone then at the controls, can be heard saying over and over "I rely on God." The voice of the captain, Ahmed Al-Habashy, is then heard saying: "What's happening, Gameel? What's happening?" He then says: "What is this? What is this? Did you shut the engine?"
EgyptAir was given 60 days after the April 19 report to review the NTSB draft report and offer comments. Hence the hearing this week.
The EgyptAir tragedy has raised a myriad of issues, including the honor and reputation of the Egyptian national carrier. But there is also a great deal of money at stake. Nonetheless, while the airline refuses to accept full blame for the crash, it has acknowledged liability and has agreed to pay damages to the families that are eligible to sue in the US courts.
Of course, if there is ever a finding that a mechanical problem is to blame, Boeing could find itself carrying, much or all, of the financial burden.
Thus far, EgyptAir seems to be weathering the storm quite well. On April 18, the day before the NTSB report was released, it announced profits of $31.5 million for the fiscal year 1999-2000, $13.7 million more than the amount reported for the 1998-1999 fiscal year.
According to the EgyptAir chairman, Mohammad Fahim Rayyan, the revenues exceeded forecasts for 1999-2000 by $9.15 million. The seven percent growth shown by the company, he said, came despite the bad publicity of the October crash. ― (MENA Report)
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