By Luca Albertalli
Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority is the one in charge of the investigation and they are the one in charge of deciding how to investigate the accident. It is customs to receive help from the Airline and the aircraft manufacturer since they are the one with the better knowledge of the aircraft and the airline procedure as well as the civil authorities overseeing these companies (for Boeing, NTSB is in charge of crash investigations and the FAA of regulatory oversight). But they are free to invite whoever they want to ensure a fair, complete, and quick investigation of the accident.
This means it is in their interest to involve whichever third parties they see fit. There are not a lot of countries with experience in analyzing black boxes, and they are mainly the country who host big airplane manufacturers… So NTSB in the US and BEA in France. They are both agencies with a reputation for high skills and impartiality. So any thought that BEA has an interest in slowing down the investigation or to damage Boeing need to be well substantiated by evidence (same would be for NTSB, but continue reading).
Now, why did the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority chose BEA over NTSB? Well, you need to understand their situation and the fact that they are not a totally partial third party. Ethiopian Airlines is one of the best Airlines in Africa and a very reliable and efficient one. They made a point of employing local pilots and built a very good school for training them. In this context, you have:
- Boeing, after the Lion Air crash and initial evidence of MCAS problems, had a pretty bad knee jerk reaction stating that, although they didn’t train the pilot, it is pretty much standard operation to disable the auto-trim in that case. (They should have fired their PR)
- After this crash, and mounting evidence it was the same issue, they again went in denial. (Is their PR department still around?)
- The close ties between Boeing and the Trump administration are well known.
- The Trump administration has never shied away from meddling with investigations for their own gains.
Ok, so you are the ECAA and you need to investigate this crash and you miss a critical capability. You could basically choose between a third party that has a good reputation, is independent and, if biased, is biased in your favor, or another one, as competent as the first, but possibly biased against your country interest. And this possibly biased third party is managed by a government that has built a bad reputation in terms of being impartial… Does it prove that is corrupted or they will be corrupted? No. Do you want to take the risk? No
TL;DR: The Ethiopian Authority decided to go with France because they don’t trust the impartiality of NTSB due to Boeing behavior and well-publicized Trump administration actions. Very important bottom line: in business, reputation, also at a country level, counts.