Boeing confirmed late on Tuesday that it will make two new software updates to its 737 MAX’s flight control computer. The aircraft manufacturer said the updates were not related to the systems that faulted in the two fatal crashes that saw the plane grounded a little over a year ago.
Two more software issues
This is the latest in a series of updates and upgrades performed by Boeing to get its best-selling aircraft model re-certified. Boeing was originally set to resolve problems with the plane’s MCAS software that was identified as the culprit in the fatal crashes. However, a host of other software issues have come to light during the plane’s grounding.
According to Reuters, one issue involves hypothetical faults in the flight control computer microprocessor, which could potentially lead to a loss of control known as a runaway stabilizer. The other issue could potentially lead to disengagement of the autopilot feature during final approach.
Runaway stabilizer and autopilot disconnect
A “runaway stabilizer” occurs when an uncommanded movement of a panel on the aircraft’s tail points the plane’s nose downward. This particular technical issue with the 737 MAX was discovered by the FAA on the 26th of June last year.
Boeing said that the issue with the potential autopilot disconnect during approach already had flight deck alerts and warnings in place to alert the crew, should it occur in flight.
Other issues that Boeing has discovered during the grounding has included the prevention of flight-control computers from powering up and verifying they are ready for flight. Another one caused a fault with the warning light that tell pilots when the trim system, a part of the plane that can lift or lower the aircraft’s nose, isn’t working.
New updates not related to MCAS
Boeing said that neither of the new updates are related to the key system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, (MCAS), the system that was considered to be at fault in the fatal crashes of Lion Air in October 2018, and Ethiopian Airlines in March 2019.
The MCAS is a flight control law that is supposed to prevent the pilot from inadvertently pull the plane up too steeply by pushing down the nose of the plane automatically if detecting an elevated angle of attack with flaps up in manual mode.
The MCAS has, for very understandable reasons, been given its own whole set of upgrades. It will now require two sensors to agree in order to be activated and pilots will be able to deactivate the system. It will then not be able to automatically reactivate, as it did at least 20 times in the Lion Air crash.
Scheduled test flight pushed back to May
As reported by RFI, a scheduled key test flight for the 737 MAX has been pushed back by a month until May. This new delay in restoring the plane to service comes as Boeing is facing great financial loss not only from the grounding of its top-seller but also from the impact of the shut-down of its factories. The crisis has seen Boeing close down US commercial plane manufacturing operations, and is hitting its customers, the airlines, devastating final blows by the day.
But even once the test flight will have been approved, there is still the requirements for the pilot and crew training for the upgraded MAX to be settled upon. One of the major updates involves the flight handling system that has been indicated to have played a part in the fatal crashes leading to the grounding of the aircraft. Boeing still believes that regulatory approval will be achieved by mid-2020 and that the plane will be back in the air shortly thereafter.
Do you think that the 737 MAX will be back in the air with other planes as travel restrictions are lifted? Or is Boeing’s holding on to the timeline of mid-2020 too optimistic? Let us know what you think in the comments!