American Airlines pilots are set to begin testing a software fix for the Boeing 737 MAX. The fix follows two fatal crashes which are thought to be attributed to the aircraft’s MCAS system. The trials will take place at Boeing’s Renton plant in Washington.
The world’s Boeing 737 MAX fleet is currently grounded as Boeing desperately works on a software fix for the system. While American Airlines is sending pilots to review the software updates, Southwest and United Airlines are also sending non-pilot representatives.
Significant software flaws
The Boeing 737 MAX has much larger engines than its predecessor. As such, these are located further forward and higher than previous models of the 737. This means that the handling characteristics of the aircraft has changed. Boeing introduced the MCAS system to counteract this. MCAS stands for Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System.
The MCAS system is designed to trim the nose down if the aircraft stalls. However, it appears as though, in certain situations, this system can erroneously be activated, with disastrous consequences. As such, Boeing is working on a fix to the software which regulates the MCAS system. This software fix will need to be approved by the FAA before being rolled out.
The flaw which is being corrected by the software upgrade is thought to be behind 346 deaths across two fatal air accidents. The first was the tragic loss of Lion Air flight 610 in late October. 189 lives were lost in this first incident, with no survivors. The second incident really brought home the magnitude of the software issue. On the 10th of March, a further 157 lives were lost when Ethiopian flight 302 crashed under similar circumstances.
Following the second incident, airlines and aviation authorities across the globe began to ground the Boeing 737 MAX. This became a global grounding when the FAA and Boeing finally bowed to global and public pressure on the 13th of March.
Every day that the Boeing 737 MAX remains grounded is costing Boeing and airlines around the world more money. Boeing is looking to patch the MCAS software to stop the behaviour behind these accidents as quickly as possible. In fact, right now it appears that the software update is now almost complete.
Representatives from three major airlines are currently meeting with Boeing in order to review the changes. While Southwest and United have sent non-pilot and training teams, American Airlines is also sending two pilots to Renton. This will comprise of one union pilot and one pilot from American’s management. These pilots will test the software fix in one of Boeing’s 737 MAX simulators. There are currently just nine Boeing 737 MAX simulators in use globally.
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