Boeing proposed software changes to its embattled 737 Max aircraft on Wednesday and mandated pilot training, moves that it hopes will allay concerns that the jetliner is safe and get it back in the air.
The changes – previewed at the company’s Renton, Washington, facilities – focus on a flight-control system designed to keep the plane’s nose from pitching up, which figured in one crash and is suspected of playing a role in a second. The proposals come as Boeing faces not only pressure as flight cancellations mount because of grounded jets, but scrutiny from Congress.
FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell testified before a Senate panel Wednesday on the agency’s decision to keep Max 8s in the air as other countries grounded them after an Ethiopian Airlines crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8 jet earlier this month in which 157 people died.
More: FAA to defend decision to keep Boeing 737 Max 8 in the air following crashes as other countries grounded them
One airline, Indonesia’s Garuda Airlines, has canceled its order because of loss of confidence in the 737 Max.
“We’re working with customers and regulators around the world to restore faith in our industry and also to reaffirm our commitment to safety and to earning the trust of the flying public,” said Mike Sinnett, Boeing vice president for product strategy and development, in announcing the changes.
The changes will be made to what is known as Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, which was meant to automatically take over if the plane’s nose suddenly rises in a way that could lead to stalling.
A possible flaw in the system is being blamed for the Lion Air crash of a 737 Max 8 over the Java Sea late last year and is being investigated in the Ethiopian Airlines crash involving the same model of jet.
Now, the MCAS system will compare readings from two sensors that monitor for the plane’s forward angle. If the sensors disagree by 5.5 degrees, the MCAS won’t activate. A warning light, previously an option, will alert pilots, Boeing said.
The changes will also make it easier for pilots to override the system and fly the plane themselves. If they pull back on the wheel, the system won’t counteract them. Before the Lion Air flight crash, pilots reportedly tried multiple times to use the controls to push the plane’s nose down or disable the system, but the system kept initiating again.
MCAS will no longer keep turning itself on. It will now only turn on once if the sensors find the plane’s angle of attack is too extreme.
In addition, Boeing said pilots will need 21 days of training both from instructors and in simulators in order to be qualified to fly a 737. Training will include differences in the Max, the latest version of the 737 that first flew in the 1960s.
The changes will likely need to be reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration and yet to be seen if they are significant enough to get the plane flying again.