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Boeing tries to restore confidence in Max 737

CBS News logo CBS News 12/9/2019 Kris Van Cleave
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In a presentation given to stakeholders last week in Seattle, Boeing announced it is not recommending new or additional simulator training for pilots before the grounded737 Max flies again, according to documents obtained by CBS News. Instead, Boeing, pending Federal Aviation Administration approval, plans to provide airlines with "mandatory computer-based training modules" and other training materials.  

Among the "next steps" laid out is acknowledging the need to "restore public confidence" in the 737 Max, according to presentation documents obtained by CBS News Transportation Correspondent Kris Van Cleave. The Boeing presentation, held on December 3 and 4, is also an effort to build confidence with analysts, airlines, pilots, flight attendants and unions.

The meetings came as Boeing officials are acknowledging the company will likely miss its target of resuming 737 Max deliveries by the end of the year. A return to service is possible in the first quarter of 2020 if the FAA completes its certification process for the plane. 

Boeing told attendees the company has flown 1,850 flight hours with the software updates, 1,200 simulator flight hours and 240 regulator simulator flight hours. Additionally, Boeing employees have spent more than 100,000 man hours in engineering and test developing a solution to the 737 Max's issues.

One key set of improvements, Boeing said, is to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was a key factor in two crashes in October of 2018 and March of 2019 that killed a total of 346 people. 

Boeing specifically highlighted in presentation documents the new MCAS compares inputs from two angle of attack (AOA) sensors as opposed to a single sensor in the original, flawed, design. MCAS will only activate if data from both sensors agree the AOA is too high. MCAS will activate only once per high AOA event. Pilots will be able to override it and the system will not activate automatically a second time. In the original design, the system reactivated over and over. The presentation reiterates the crew can deactivate MCAS by turning off the automatic trim system and manually turning the trim wheel. 

Boeing 737 Max Planes Sit Idle As Company Continues To Work On Software Glitch That Contributed To Two Fatal Jetliner Crashes

Boeing 737 Max Planes Sit Idle As Company Continues To Work On Software Glitch That Contributed To Two Fatal Jetliner Crashes
© / Getty Images

One presentation attendee told Van Cleave he felt he better understood the design changes to MCAS after the briefing and felt more comfortable with the updates. However, he expressed continued concern over the FAA's original approval process for the 737 Max, which did not require a more in-depth certification consistent with a brand new type of airplane.  

"I just don't know how similar this plane is to the older 737s," he said.

FAA sources confirmed Boeing re-submitted long-stalled paperwork that was rejected by American and European regulators in early November. Boeing initially submitted a collection of what were essentially diagrams explaining how the MCAS software update works. FAA and European regulators kicked back the submission, requesting additional documentation.

Acceptance of that paperwork would be another necessary step in returning the plane to service. Last week, a panel of 737 pilots conducted simulator tests on the software updates, and their findings are being reviewed by regulators this week.

Boeing Vice President and General Manager of the 737 Program Mark Jenks told attendees that teams are "focused on safety and quality, with the goal of stabilizing the production system." To that end, Boeing has a plan to make more 737 Max aircraft than ever before. Once the FAA approves the 737 Max to fly again, Boeing plans to increase production from the current rate of 42 a month to 47 and gradually increase to a production rate of 57 a month. 

The documents obtained include a PowerPoint presentation outlining 10 changes Boeing is making as a company to improve safety and product development, including re-examining assumptions around flight deck design and operation "to anticipate the needs of future pilot populations."

Boeing plans to deploy field teams around the world ahead of the plane's return to service to help airlines bring their 737 Max fleets back to life. 

When the FAA approves the 737 Max to fly again, the undelivered planes currently stored in Moses Lake, Washington and San Antonio, Texas will return to Seattle for delivery. The delivery stream will be a mix of stored aircraft and planes coming fresh off the production line in Renton, Washington.

Two additional variants of the 737 Max — the Max7, the smallest in the Max family of aircraft, and the High Capacity Max8, built for Ryanair— are done with flight testing and await FAA certification, which is dependent on the approval of the software update. The 737 Max10, the largest plane in the Max family, is set to make its first flight next year. The company has a backlog of approximately 4,500 orders, according to Jenks.

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