What’s Inside The FAA’s Report On Boeing 737 MAX Pilot Training

On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a draft report on the revised pilot training procedures for the Boeing 737 MAX. The report could be a significant step toward the recertification of the troubled aircraft, which has been grounded for over 18 months after two fatal crashes.

Boeing 737 MAZ
The FAA proposes new training procedures for 737 MAX pilots. Photo: Boeing

Proposed new 737 MAX training

The FAA draft report issued on October 6 adds new training procedures to deal with the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) on the 737 MAX. MCAS is a piece of safety software that was believed to malfunction in the two crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that claimed the lives of 346 passengers. The aircraft was subsequently grounded in March 2019.

The report broadly outlines pilot training on all Boeing 737 types, but an appendix specifies special training for 737 MAX flight crews. This section includes ground and flight training procedures that highlight the differences between the 737NG and 737 MAX.

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Specific MCAS flight training requires a demonstration of MCAS activation for each pilot, including:

  • MCAS activation during an impending stall (or full stall) and recovery demonstration during manual flight in a clean configuration.
  • Demonstrate MCAS activation stabilizer trim responses.
  • Stabilizer trim in the nose down direction when above threshold AOA for MCAS activation during stall.
  • Stabilizer trim in the nose-up direction when below threshold AOA for MCAS activation during recovery.

Pilots must also undergo runaway stabilizer training requiring them to use manual stabilizer trim techniques during approach, go-around, and level off. In addition, they must experience demonstrations of erroneous high AOA (Angle of Attack) on takeoff and the effects on the flight deck associated with the failure. The demonstration must include a go-around or missed approach.

737 MAX
FAA requires the MCAS software to be upgraded. Photo: Boeing

Additional safeguards required by the FAA

The 737 MAX has a tendency to pitch up, and MCAS was designed to counter the action and enhance the pitch stability of the aircraft. The system is designed to activate during manual flight at an elevated AOA and with the flaps up.

However, MCAS could be activated by receiving data from a single AOA sensor. In the two fatal crashes, MCAS played a critical role when it was erroneously and repeatedly activated by faulty data from the sensor.

The FAA now requires MCAS to receive data from two sensors. The flight control system will now compare inputs from both AOA sensors. If the sensors disagree by 5.5 degrees or more with the flaps retracted, MCAS will not activate.

If MCAS is activated in non-normal conditions, it will only provide one input for each elevated AOA event. Also, MCAS can never command more stabilizer input than can be counteracted by the flight crew pulling back on the column. The pilots will continue always to have the ability to override MCAS and manually control the airplane.

737 MAX winglet
The 737 MAX could be cleared to fly before the end of the year. Photo: Boeing

The 737 MAX could soon be cleared to fly

FAA Chief Steve Dickson made a test flight in the 737 MAX at the end of last month and said that he liked what he saw and that the aircraft is on the home stretch. Before it can issue an ungrounding order, the FAA needs to finalize the upgrades to the software and other improvements. It is expected that the 737 MAX could start to resume commercial flights by the end of November.

Are you eager to see the 737 MAX take to the skies, or do you have reservations?