WMU will use Ethiopia crash to teach future pilots


BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — As investigators work to figure out what caused a plane crash in Ethiopia that killed 157 people, aviation experts at Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation are cautioning against a rush to judgement about what went wrong.

“(Aviation) is a very complex environment,” WMU Executive Director of Flight Operations Tom Grossman told 24 Hour News 8. “To try to find out why something as horrific as this happened takes a lot of analysis.”

Investigators have recovered the black boxes, essentially data and voice recorders, from the Ethiopian Airlines plane that went down Sunday north of Addis Ababa. The information will be analyzed to help figure out what wrong.

“Everybody that’s associated within the industry, whether it’s the airline employees or even travel agents, this is heart-wrenching,” Grossman said of the crash.

This is the second major crash in six months involving a Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliner, calling into question the plane’s overall safety.

“I guarantee the first thing (investigators) are going to check is commonalities between this accident and the prior accident,” Dave Powell, WMU’s dean of the college of aviation, said in a news release.

Grossman said once the cause of the crash becomes clearer, WMU will use the answers to teach its students. The goal is to prevent future tragedies in the sky.

“We take aircraft incidents, whether they’re minor or major such as this one here, and try to analyze them,” Grossman said. “Take the best lessons learned and pass it on to future generations.”

Those lessons go beyond the books. WMU has flight simulation devices that teach how to respond if something does go wrong.

“We have the capability of failing various systems,” Grossman explained. “So the student can experience that failure in a simulator rather than trying to recreate something in the air.”

The Ethiopian Airlines pilot had 8,000 hours of flying time, but his co-pilot had just 200 hours, according to reports. In the U.S., the standard training time for commercial pilots is 1,500 hours. WMU is able to cut that to 1,000 hours because of the quality of training and instruction, according to Powell.

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