Officials from three American carriers visit Boeing to assess 737 MAX upgrade

With Boeing 737 MAX jets still grounded worldwide, representatives from Southwest Airlines Co, American Airlines and United Airlines who respectively operate 34, 24 and 14 MAX jets, visited Boeing’s plant at Renton, Washington this weekend, which is a clear indication that the software patch the plane maker is creating is nearing completion. According to a Southwest Airlines’ spokeswoman, Southwest’s delegation includes experts from its technical pilot and training teams who will review documentation and training associated with Boeing’s updated speed trim system.

American Airlines’ pilots told Reuters last Thursday that they also planned to test Boeing’s software upgrade this past weekend in Renton, Washington, where Boeing makes the jets and has two simulators, while a United Airlines’ spokesman also confirmed that the carrier would also be in attendance.

Boeing shares have fallen 14 percent since the Ethiopian crash, and it is likely it will still take several weeks for regulatory approval for the software patch and associated pilot training to be completed, after which the 737 MAX will be able to take to the skies once again.

Push for new fuel-efficient engines may be the root cause for Boeing’s 737 MAX problems

In a recent article in the New York Times, an excellent account of how Boeing opted to upgrade the 737 to compete with the new Airbus A320 highlights aerodynamic problems created with the installation of the new-fuel-efficient engines.

A main selling point of the new A320 was its fuel-efficient engines. To match Airbus, Boeing needed to mount the Max with its own larger and powerful new engines.

Just as Mr. Albaugh (the then chief executive of Boeing commercial airplanes division) had predicted for Airbus, the decision created a cascade of changes. The bigger engines altered the aerodynamics of the plane, making it more likely to pitch up in some circumstances.

To offset that possibility, Boeing added the new software in the Max, known as MCAS, which would automatically push the nose down if it sensed the plane pointing up at a dangerous angle. The goal was to avoid a stall. Because the system was supposed to work in the background, Boeing believed it didn’t need to brief pilots on it, and regulators agreed. Pilots weren’t required to train in simulators.”

The article adds:

“The new software system is now a focus of investigators who are trying to determine what went wrong in the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the Lion Air tragedy in Indonesia. A leading theory in the Lion Air crash is that the system was receiving bad data from a faulty sensor, triggering an unrecoverable nose dive. All 737 Max jets around the world are grounded, and Boeing has given no estimate of when they might return to flight. “

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