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Boeing tests new software for embattled B737Max planes, meets customers

ET refutes ill-trained pilot claims
United States’ commercial airplane manufacturer, Boeing, has tested software changes to a key stabilisation system on the embattled B737Max aircraft.Pilots from three U.S. carriers – American, Southwest and United – conducted the test-run that proved successful, ahead of an update session with about 200 pilots and technicians this Wednesday.

In a related development, Ethiopian Airlines (ET) has refuted claims by Western media that the airlines’ training programme on the new aircraft-type is deficient, and might be linked to the plane crash about three weeks ago. More than half of 350 active B737Max aeroplanes have been grounded in 41 countries in the wake of the Ethiopian plane crash, over safety concerns on the Max model.

The software changes are intended to decrease the chances of triggering the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which is believed to have played a role in the Lion Air crash in October.The Federal Aviation Administration has said there are similarities between that crash and a second 737 MAX crash earlier this month in Ethiopia.

Pilots and training officials from Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines met with Boeing officials at the weekend to review the software changes in the Seattle area, where the model is assembled, according to multiple airline sources.

At the gathering, pilots from the three American carriers, plus two smaller non-US airlines, ran simulated flights designed to mimic the situation that brought down the Lion Air flight in Indonesia last year, using the current and updated software.Each pilot using the flight simulator landed the plane safely, the person said.

In the simulations with the current MCAS software, the test pilots used existing procedures to disable the system, while test flights using the new software required less intervention from the pilots, the person said.The updated software designed by Boeing uses input from two sensors on the nose of the plane, instead of one, and is designed to not trigger the MCAS system repeatedly, which is believed to have pitched the Lion Air plane’s nose down so sharply that the pilots’ attempts to regain control were futile.

In a statement Sunday, Boeing called the meeting a “productive session” and said that they had invited more than 200 pilots and technicians, as well as regulators, to an informational session at the company’s production facility in Renton, Washington, on Wednesday.

“This is part of our ongoing effort to share more details about our plan for supporting the safe return of the 737 Max to commercial service,” Boeing said.“We had a productive session this past Saturday and plan to reach all current and many future Max operators and their home regulators. At the same time, we continue to work closely with our customers and regulators on software and training updates for the 737 Max,” Boeing said.

The FAA, which is part of this effort to test the new software, declined to comment. One source familiar with the tests said the FAA is expected to receive the software early in the week.Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ET, Tewolde GebreMariam, said contrary to some media reports, “our pilots, who fly the new model, were trained on all appropriate simulators.”

GebreMariam said the investigation of the accident is well underway, and need not speculate the cause. However, he said: “As it is well known in our global aviation industry, the differences training between the B-737 NG and the B-737Max recommended by Boeing and approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration called for computer-based training, but we went beyond that.

“After the Lion Air accident in October, our pilots who fly the Boeing 737 Max 8 were fully trained on the service bulletin issued by Boeing and the Emergency Airworthiness Directive issued by the USA FAA. “Among the seven Full Flight Simulators that we own and operate, two of them are for B-737 NG and the B-737Max. We are the only airline in Africa among the very few in the world with the B-737Max full flight Simulator,” he said.

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