June Boeing 737 MAX Simulator Incident Led To Software Redesign

After a near-crash during simulation, Boeing has undertaken rigorous testing on its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. It has now created an improved software redesign, which is thought to be the reason delaying a return to service.

June Boeing 737 MAX Simulator Incident Led To Software Redesign
A software redesign is the cause of the delayed 737 MAX return to service. Photo: pjs2005 via Wikimedia Commons

The incident that retold history

A publication by Bloomberg has explained how a near-crash during a Boeing 737 MAX flight simulation forced the company to redesign the aircraft’s software.

In June, Boeing had completed the majority of fixes on the 737 MAX software ahead of the return to service. At the time, Boeing was set to work delivering a less aggressive MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) which caused its other aircraft to crash.

However, during the simulation, the aircraft nose-dived in the same aggressive way characteristic of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Needless to say, the aircraft was not “operationally suitable” as Boeing had once believed. Nor was the fix a completed masterpiece.

The simulation issue meant Boeing had to rethink its design. Photo: Boeing

The simulation incident forced Boeing to return to the drawing board leaving the world waiting for what has been nearly a year after the initial grounding.

Creating more sophisticated safety precautions

Boeing’s design for its grounded MAX aircraft is now a lot more sophisticated. Rather than attempting to bring the MAX back into service as soon as possible, as seemed its previous approach, it’s gone one better. Most importantly, Boeing is bringing the aircraft in line with modern safety standards.

One of the caveats of the June simulation helped Boeing to progress in its design. As well as creating an MCAS which responded less aggressively, Boeing was also hoping to rely on swift reactions. It was hoping that pilots would be able to respond quickly to prevent crashes. However, that proved a weak solution since one of the pilots in the simulation failed to respond fast enough.

So now Boeing is creating a system with more modern flight computers. The new computers will be responsible for monitoring one another. The company said:

“We updated the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) on the MAX by adding three additional layers of protection…The company is making steady progress on the second software update announced in June for additional flight control computer redundancy.”

Boeing said that it had redesigned the way its Angle of Attack (AoA) sensors interacts with the MCAS. The MCAS is programmed to evaluate information from both of these Angle of Attack sensors before it activates.

June Boeing 737 MAX Simulator Incident Led To Software Redesign
Boeing has redesigned the communication between AoA sensors and MCAS. Photo: Boeing

Boeing has created a system where computers interact with one another more frequently. It’s what some of its newer aircraft are already using. And it’s a more reliable system. It’s perhaps, the kind of change that Boeing should have originally designed. Boeing said:

“These software changes will prevent the flight control conditions that occurred in this accident from ever happening again.”

So, when will the MAX return to service?

But the aircraft isn’t in the clear just yet. Boeing expects to carry out even more rigorous testing to prove that the new system really is as safe as possible.

Many airlines are keen to return the MAX to service, but testing still needs to be completed. Photo: Southwest Airlines

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has requested that Boeing send revised documentation on the new system. This, as well as scrupulous testing, will ensure confidence in the aircraft’s ability to safely operate. Boeing states on its MAX update website that it has already undertaken over 800 test and production flights as well as more than 1,500 hours of testing with the new software.

How long do you think it will take for the MAX to return to service? Let us know in the comments below!