Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

Boeing invites pilots and regulators to briefing as it looks to return 737 Max to service

More than 200 people have been invited to the meeting in Washington

The meeting in Washington is a sign that Boeing's planned software patch for the 737 Max is nearing completion. Photo: AFP
The meeting in Washington is a sign that Boeing's planned software patch for the 737 Max is nearing completion. Photo: AFP

Boeing said it has invited more than 200 airline pilots, technical leaders and regulators for an information session on Wednesday as it looks to return the 737 Max to commercial service.

The meeting is a sign that Boeing's planned software patch is nearing completion, although it will still need regulatory approval.

Over the weekend, Ethiopian Airlines executives had questioned whether Boeing had told pilots enough about "aggressive" software that pushes the plane's nose down, a focus of investigation into a deadly crash in Ethiopia this month that led to the global grounding of 737 Max jets.

The informational session in Renton, Washington, on Wednesday, is part of a plan to reach all current and many future 737 Max operators and their home regulators to discuss software and training updates to the jet, Boeing said.

Garuda Indonesia, which on Friday said it planned to cancel its order for 49 jets of the model citing a loss of passenger trust after the crashes, was invited to the briefing, chief executive Ari Askhara said on Monday.

"We were informed on Friday, but because it is short notice we can't send a pilot there," he said, adding the airline had requested a webinar with Boeing but that idea had been rejected.

A Boeing spokeswoman said Wednesday's event was one of a series of in-person information sessions.

"We have been scheduling and will continue to arrange additional meetings to communicate with all current and many future Max customers and operators," she said.

Garuda has only one 737 Max and had been reconsidering its order before the Ethiopian crash, as has fellow Indonesian airline Lion Air, which experienced a deadly crash in October.

Singapore Airlines said its offshoot SilkAir, which operates the 737 Max, had received the invitation to the event and would send representatives.

Korean Air Lines, which before the grounding had been due to receive its first 737 Max in April, said it planned to send pilots to Renton.

The 737 Max is Boeing's best-selling plane, with orders worth more than $500 billion at list prices.

Teams from the three US airlines that own 737 Max jets participated in a session in Renton reviewing a planned software upgrade on Saturday.

A US official briefed on the matter said the Federal Aviation Administration had not yet signed off on the software upgrade and training, but the goal is to review them in the coming weeks and approve them by April.

It remained unclear whether the software upgrade, called "design changes" by the FAA, will resolve concerns stemming from the ongoing investigation into the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash, which killed all 157 on board.

"After the crash it came to our attention that the system is aggressive," said Yohannes Hailemariam, vice president for flight operations at Ethiopian.

"It gives a message of stalling and it takes immediate action which is faster than the action which pilots were briefed to take by Boeing," said Mr Hailemariam, himself a pilot with more than 30 years of experience, including flying Boeing's 777 and 787.

The US official said planned changes included 15 minutes of training to help pilots deactivate the anti-stall system, known as MCAS, in the event of faulty sensor data or other issues. It also included some self-guided instruction.

American Airlines said on Sunday it will extend flight cancellations through April 24 because of the grounding of the 737 Max and cut some additional flights.

Updated: March 25, 2019 02:15 PM