Panel to re­view Boe­ing 737 Max flight con­trols

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - As­so­ci­ated Press

A global team of ex­perts next week will be­gin re­view­ing how the Boe­ing 737 Max’s flight con­trol sys­tem was ap­proved by the U.S. Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The FAA says ex­perts from nine in­ter­na­tional civil avi­a­tion au­thor­i­ties have con­firmed par­tic­i­pa­tion in a tech­ni­cal re­view promised by the agency.

For­mer Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board Chair­man Chris Hart will lead the group, which also will have ex­perts from the FAA and NASA. They will look at the plane’s automated sys­tem in­clud­ing the way it in­ter­acts with pi­lots. The group will meet Tues­day and is ex­pected to fin­ish in 90 days.

The Boe­ing jet­liner has been grounded around the world since mid-March af­ter two crashes killed 346 peo­ple. In­ves­ti­ga­tors are fo­cus­ing on anti-stall soft­ware that pushed the planes’ noses down based on er­ro­neous sen­sor read­ings.

In a state­ment Fri­day, the FAA said avi­a­tion au­thor­i­ties from Aus­tralia, Brazil, Canada, China, the Euro­pean Union, Ja­pan, In­done­sia, Sin­ga­pore and the United Arab Emi­rates have agreed to help with the work, called a Joint Au­thor­i­ties Tech­ni­cal Re­view.

The group will eval­u­ate the automated flight con­trol de­sign and de­ter­mine whether it com­plies with reg­u­la­tions. It also will de­cide if changes need to be made in the FAA’s ap­proval process.

Chicago-based Boe­ing is work­ing on a soft­ware fix to the planes’ anti-stall sys­tem, known by its acro­nym, MCAS. In both an Oc­to­ber crash off the coast of In­done­sia and a March crash in Ethiopia, a faulty sen­sor read­ing trig­gered MCAS and pushed the plane’s nose down, and pi­lots were un­able to re­cover.

Pi­lots at U.S. air­lines com­plained that they didn’t even know about MCAS un­til af­ter the Oc­to­ber crash. They then re­ceived com­puter train­ing that de­scribed the sys­tem and how to re­spond when some­thing goes wrong with it.

On Wed­nes­day, Boe­ing CEO Den­nis Muilen­burg said the com­pany com­pleted its last test flight of up­dated flight-con­trol soft­ware. Muilen­burg said test pi­lots flew 120 flights to­tal­ing 203 hours with the new soft­ware. The com­pany is ex­pected to con­duct a cru­cial cer­ti­fi­ca­tion flight with an FAA test pi­lot on board soon, pos­si­bly next week.

“We are mak­ing steady progress to­ward cer­ti­fi­ca­tion” and re­turn­ing the Max to ser­vice, Muilen­burg said as he stood in front of a Max jet at Boe­ing Field in Seat­tle.

Muilen­burg said he went on a test flight that day and saw the up­dated soft­ware “op­er­at­ing as de­signed across a range of flight con­di­tions.”

In the U.S., United Air­lines has re­moved its 14 Max jets from the sched­ule un­til early July, while Amer­i­can, with 24, and South­west, with 34, are not count­ing on the planes un­til Au­gust.

It could take longer be­fore for­eign air­lines can use their Max jets. Reg­u­la­tors out­side the U.S. once re­lied on the FAA’s judg­ment in such mat­ters but have in­di­cated plans to con­duct their own re­views this time.

TED S. WAR­REN AP

A Boe­ing 737 Max 8 air­plane be­ing built for In­dia-based Jet Air­ways takes off on a test flight April 10 at Boe­ing Field in Seat­tle.

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