FAA spells out changes re­quired for 737 Max

Chicago Sun-Times - - BUSINESS - BY DAVID KOENIG AP Air­lines Writer

Fed­eral reg­u­la­tors on Mon­day out­lined a list of de­sign changes they will re­quire in the Boe­ing 737 Max to fix safety is­sues that were dis­cov­ered af­ter two deadly crashes that led to the world­wide ground­ing of the plane.

The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posed soft­ware changes to a flight-con­trol sys­tem im­pli­cated in the crashes. It also plans to re­quire a warn­ing light to pi­lots that wasn’t work­ing on the planes that crashed, changes to on-board com­put­ers, and the rerout­ing of some wiring.

The doc­u­ment and an ac­com­pa­ny­ing 95page sum­mary, fol­low­ing an 18-month re­view, pro­vide the most de­tailed look yet at the FAA’s ex­am­i­na­tion of fac­tors that con­trib­uted to the crashes, which killed 346 peo­ple.

It is not clear when the FAA will lift its March 2019 or­der ground­ing all Max jets, which fol­lowed sim­i­lar or­ders by reg­u­la­tors in the rest of the world. Of­fi­cials of Chicago-based Boe­ing said last week they hope to win reg­u­la­tory ap­proval to re­sume de­liv­er­ies of com­pleted Max jets in the fourth quar­ter of this year.

“We’re con­tin­u­ing to make steady progress to­wards the safe re­turn to ser­vice, work­ing closely with the FAA and other global reg­u­la­tors,” said Boe­ing spokesman Bernard Choi. “While we still have a lot of work in front of us, this is an im­por­tant mile­stone in the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process.”

Air­lines be­gan us­ing the Max in 2017. There were nearly 400 in ser­vice when the planes were grounded af­ter a 2018 crash in In­done­sia and a 2019 crash in Ethiopia. In­ves­ti­ga­tors have pointed to the role played by flight-con­trol soft­ware called MCAS that pushed the noses of the planes down based on faulty sen­sor read­ings.

The FAA will re­quire more re­dun­dancy in the plane’s de­sign to im­prove safety, in­clud­ing link­ing MCAS to two sen­sors in­stead of one. Both crashes oc­curred af­ter the sys­tem pushed the plane’s nose down in re­sponse to a sin­gle mis­fir­ing sen­sor. The agency will re­quire an alert to warn pi­lots if there ap­pears to a prob­lem with the sen­sors.

The FAA also plans to make MCAS less pow­er­ful so that pi­lots can re­spond if it mis­tak­enly pushes the plane’s nose down. Pi­lots — who didn’t know about MCAS un­til af­ter the first crash — would also re­ceive more train­ing.

The agency said more than 40 en­gi­neers, pi­lots and other staffers spent more than 60,000 hours on the re­view, which in­cluded test flights and anal­y­sis of more than 4,000 hours of Boe­ing flights and sim­u­la­tor time.

The pub­lic will now get 45 days to com­ment, af­ter which FAA is ex­pected to pub­lish a fi­nal rule for op­er­at­ing the Max. Air­lines are ex­pected to take sev­eral more weeks af­ter that to train pi­lots and retro­fit planes that have been parked for more than 16 months. The FAA said that when its work is done, “the 737 MAX will be safe to op­er­ate and meet FAA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion stan­dards.”

Boe­ing be­gan work­ing on some of the changes shortly af­ter the first crash, in Oc­to­ber 2018. Peter Lemme, a for­mer Boe­ing en­gi­neer who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about the plane and the crashes, said the FAA re­view was thor­ough and that Boe­ing was slow to take a com­pre­hen­sive look at fix­ing the plane.

“Ev­ery two months they ac­qui­esced and said, ‘OK, fine, we’ll put this fea­ture in,’ in­stead of start­ing at the front and say­ing, ‘Let’s shake the rug and get this right,’” Lemme said. “It was a Band-Aid ap­proach.”

Lemme said Boe­ing’s crit­i­cal mis­take was in as­sum­ing that it was fine for MCAS to rely on a sin­gle sen­sor in­stead of two, which is where the new de­sign ended up.


A Boe­ing 737 MAX jet is pre­pared for land­ing in Seattle dur­ing a test flight on June 29.

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