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Boeing admits flaws in 737 MAX simulator software after crashes

Published: May 19, 2019
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Source: aljazeera.com

Boeing has acknowledged it had to correct flaws in its 737 MAX flight simulator software used to train pilots, after two deadly crashes involving the aircraft that killed 346 people within six months.

The US-based aerospace company said its simulators were incapable of replicating certain flight conditions that contributed to the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March, or the Lion Air accident off Indonesia last October.

"Boeing has made corrections to the 737 MAX simulator software and has provided additional information to device operators to ensure that the simulator experience is representative across different flight conditions," Boeing said in a statement on Saturday. 

The company did not indicate when it first became aware of the problem, and whether it informed regulators.

Its statement marked the first time Boeing admitted there was a design flaw in software linked to the 737 MAX, whose MCAS anti-stall software has been blamed in large part for the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy.

Grounded planes

The 737 MAX was grounded around the world in March following the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 on board just five months after a similar crash of a Lion Air flight of a 737 MAX killed 189 people.

The company said the latest "changes will improve the simulation of force loads on the manual trim wheel," a rarely used manual wheel to control the plane's angle.

"Boeing is working closely with the device manufacturers and regulators on these changes and improvements, and to ensure that customer training is not disrupted," it added.

Southwest Airlines, a major 737 MAX customer with 34 of the aircraft in its fleet, told AFP news agency it expected to receive the first simulator "late this year".

American Airlines, which has 24 of the aircraft, said it had ordered a 737 MAX simulator that will be delivered and put into operation in December.

"As a result of the continuing investigation into both aircraft accidents, we are looking at the potential for additional training opportunities in coordination with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and Allied Pilots Association," it added.

On Thursday, Boeing said it had completed a software update for its 737 MAX jets and that is also submitting a plan on pilot training to the US Federal Aviation Administration. 

The planes are awaiting approval from US and international regulators before they can return to service.

Currently, there is only one flight simulator specific to the 737 MAX in the United States, and it is owned by Boeing, according to FAA documentation.

US airlines train their pilots flying the MAX on a simulator built for the 737 NG, the version preceding the 737 MAX in the 737 aircraft family.

Oliver McGee, a former US deputy assistant secretary for transportation, said it's vital for pilots to have access to accurate training systems.

"These simulators are very important to the airline operators," he told Al Jazeera from Lubbock, Texas. "It can cost about tens of millions of dollars over the life of the aircraft."

"American Airlines is already on board, saying we're going to get those simulators and get more data and information, to the manufacturers, from the pilots where the manoeuvrability and controllability of the MCAS takes place," he added.

US airlines have targeted August as the date they expect to resume flying on the 737 MAX.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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In a clarification that only created more confusion, Boeing said Monday that an alert intended to notify pilots when the plane might be receiving erroneous data from one of the 737 MAX 8's 'angle of attack' sensors wasn't disabled intentionally, as WSJ reported on Sunday, but that the feature had been disabled because of a previously undisclosed software glitch.

Boeing shareholders probably breathed a sigh of relief Thursday afternoon when the Oracle of Omaha himself declared that, although Boeing has "a lot of work to do, very promptly," the airline industry as a whole is still "unbelievably safe." Because Warren Buffett's tentative vote of confidence in Boeing was the best news the company had all day.

Back in 2011, American Airlines, who was an exclusive Boeing customer for more than 10 years, was getting ready to defect from the company in favor of purchasing hundreds of new jets from Airbus, according to The New York Times. Airbus had been stealing market share from Boeing for several years, and losing American Airlines would have been a crushing blow, costing billions of dollars in lost sales and thousands of jobs.

The two doomed Boeing 737s which crashed under similar conditions lacked optional safety features that the aircraft manufacturer will now make standard, according to the New York Times. For Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers, the practice of charging to upgrade a standard plane can be lucrative. Top airlines around the world must pay handsomely to have the jets they order fitted with customized add-ons.

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