Boeing says it has fixed software issue for 737 Max

Company preparing for final certification flight as part of reviews by regulators

The first Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplane is pictured during its rollout for media at the Boeing factory in Renton, Washington on March 7, 2017. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP)
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US planemaker Boeing completed software improvements for its grounded 737 Max jet, which was involved in two fatal crashes, and is providing information for pilots on how the system operates in different flight scenarios.

“With safety as our clear priority, we have completed all of the engineering test flights for the software update and are preparing for the final certification flight,” Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s chairman said in a statement on Friday.

“We’re committed to providing the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and global regulators with all the information they need, and to getting it right.”

The 737 Max, the workhorse aircraft of carriers, was grounded globally in March following a fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 on board, five months after a Lion Air 737 Max flight crashed and killed 189 people off the coast of Jakarta.

Similarities between the two accidents prompted investigations by Boeing and the FAA, while global civil aviation authorities banned operations of the aircraft. In both disasters, a malfunctioning safety system on the plane was repeatedly driving the nose of the aircraft down.

Boeing said it completed the development of updated software for the 737 Max, along with associated simulator testing and an engineering test flight. The company said it has flown the jet with the updated MCAS (safety system) software for more than 360 hours on 207 flights.

In addition, Boeing said it has developed training and education materials that are under review by the FAA, global regulators and airline customers. It is also providing information to address FAA requests for additional detail on how pilots interact with the airplane controls and displays in different flight scenarios.

Once those requests are addressed, Boeing said, it will work with the FAA to schedule the certification test flight and submit final certification documentation.

“We’re making clear and steady progress and are confident that the 737 Max with updated MCAS software will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly,” Mr Muilenburg added. “The accidents have only intensified our commitment to our values, including safety, quality and integrity, because we know lives depend on what we do.”

Daniel Elwell, acting administrator of the FAA, told policymakers on Wednesday he expects to start a review of the 737 Max software fix from as early as next week. A technical advisory board named by the agency will provide a “third set of eyes”, and its recommendations will affect the timing of the jet’s return to service.

“We will not allow the 737 Max to fly in the US unless it is absolutely safe to do so,” Mr Elwell said.

Boeing said in a statement to the FAA earlier this month that a safety feature designed to warn of conflicting readings from sensors with regards the plane’s nose angle – available on earlier models as standard – had become an optional chargeable extra on its 737 Max aircraft in the year prior to the two crashes, but it did not disclose this at the time it made the change.

With more than 350 Boeing 737 Max jets grounded globally, Boeing faces millions of dollars in compensation claims from reimbursing carriers unable to operate the aircraft, and suffering delivery delays and the mounting cost of leasing alternative planes as a result of the grounding.

The cost to Boeing is at least $100 million (Dh367m) a month just from reimbursing carriers and this could increase by $12m each month that deliveries of the jet are delayed, George Ferguson, senior aerospace analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence told The National in March. JP Morgan estimates the monthly cost at about $115m while Frost and Sullivan estimates it at nearly $170m.