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Boeing to Meet Regulators, Pilots to Detail 737 Max Fixes

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 3/25/2019 Kyunghee Park

(Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co. has set up meetings this week with airlines and regulators to explain measures it’s taking to get the 737 Max back into service after the plane was grounded following two deadly crashes in less than five months.

The planemaker invited more than 200 pilots, technical leaders and regulators for an informational session Wednesday in Renton, Washington, where the aircraft is built, Boeing said by email Monday. The company said it met Saturday with some U.S. and overseas customers.

Boeing has asked owners of the Max to submit orders for a free update of anti-stall software implicated in the first crash, a sign that regulators are closer to approving a proposed fix that could get the planes flying again.

The company and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration have come under scrutiny over the certification of the 737 Max after crashes of an Ethiopian Airlines flight this month and a Lion Air jet in October raised concerns about an automated safety system on the plane. U.S. air-safety regulators are leaning toward approving Boeing’s changes to software and pilot training for the Max, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

a child standing on a dirt field: A woman walks on March 21 outside the crater where Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed.© Getty Images via BloombergA woman walks on March 21 outside the crater where Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed.

“We had a productive session this past Saturday and plan to reach all current and many future Max operators and their home regulators,” Boeing said in the statement. “We continue to work closely with our customers and regulators on software and training updates for the 737 Max.”

Pilots from Southwest Airlines Co., the largest operator of the Max, met with Boeing over the weekend, said Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association. The Allied Pilots Association, which represents aviators at American Airlines Group Inc., declined to say whether they met with Boeing. The Air Line Pilots Association at United Continental Holdings Inc., which also flies the Max, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“We need more direct interaction with Boeing -- pilot to Boeing -- going forward,” Weaks said Monday. “We hope this is the start of something that should have been happening for a while.”

Airlines around the world are shuffling schedules. American Airlines extended flight cancellations until April 24 as it awaits information from U.S. authorities about when service can resume, according to a statement. This will mean the cancellation of about 90 flights each day, the carrier said.

Leasing Replacements

Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA meanwhile said it will take short-term leases on replacement aircraft while using additional 787 Dreamliners to combine service across the Atlantic. The company also is postponing the sale of six older-generation 737s to help cover for its 18 grounded Max jets.

The cash-strapped Scandinavian carrier, which was among the first of Boeing’s customers to say that it would seek compensation for the groundings, said it has “a good dialogue” with the planemaker and “is confident to reach a constructive agreement.”

Boeing gained 1.3 percent at 2:02 p.m. in New York, leaving the shares down 13 percent since the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

The manufacturer’s planned upgrade for the Max’s software will make its automated stall-prevention feature less aggressive and more controllable. Training will highlight information about when the system engages and how to shut it off, according to the Journal.

The so-called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System is intended to counteract a changed center of gravity on the Max, which has larger and more powerful engines than its predecessors.

As initially designed, the MCAS intervenes automatically, without a pilot’s knowledge, when just one of two sensors indicates the aircraft is at risk of a stall. The so-called angle-of-attack vane provided a faulty reading to pilots of the Lion Air plane that crashed in October, according to a preliminary report by Indonesian investigators.

--With assistance from Mary Schlangenstein.

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