March 22, 2019
By Tracy Rucinski
CHICAGO (Reuters) – American Airlines Group Inc pilots expect to test Boeing Co’s 737 MAX software fix on the U.S. manufacturer’s simulators this weekend, officials from the pilots’ union told Reuters on Thursday, a key step in restoring pilots’ confidence in the aircraft after two fatal crashes.
Boeing has been working on a software upgrade for an anti-stall system and pilot displays on its fastest-selling jetliner in the wake of the deadly Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October.
Similarities between the flight path in the Lion Air incident and a fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10 have raised fresh questions about the system, and pilots want assurances that the update is solid. The two crashes killed everyone aboard both planes, a total of 346 people.
American is the second largest U.S. operator of the MAX, behind Southwest Airlines. United Airlines is the third U.S. carrier to operate the MAX.
“This airplane can be a safe airplane, and there have been great strides on getting a fix in the works, but I’ll have a better feel after we can test it out,” said Mike Michaelis, safety committee chairman of the Allied Pilots Association, or APA, which represent American Airline pilots.
Michaelis said one APA pilot and one pilot from American’s management team would test the software fix in Renton, Washington, where Boeing builds the MAX and has two simulators.
Boeing declined to comment.
The MAX jets were grounded worldwide in the wake of the Ethiopian crash. For the aircraft to fly in the United States again, the Federal Aviation Administration must approve the planned software fix and new training, which pilots must complete.
Boeing also plans to offer as standard a safety feature that might have warned earlier of problems that possibly played a role in the two crashes.
As for training, Boeing has proposed new computer-based training on the software update, followed by a mandatory test.
Jon Weaks, head of Southwest Airline’s pilots’ union, told members on Wednesday that the FAA-mandated training should be enhanced.
MAX simulator training is not required, partly because not many simulators exist.
Southwest and American, which operate 34 and 24 MAX jets, respectively, have said they expect to receive MAX simulators later this year.
Canada’s CAE Inc, the main simulator producer, said it has delivered nine of the simulators, which are now in high demand by airlines but take about a year to build. CAE expects to deliver 20 more in 2019.
“For now we want to get our safety experts in these unicorn simulators to show us what the software fix does,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the American Airlines pilot union and a 737 pilot. “When it comes to safely issues, it has to be a full-course meal, nothing a la carte.”
(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; editing by Leslie Adler)