Boeing 737 Max jets are grounded at Sky Harbor International Airport, Thursday, March 14, 2019 in Phoenix.
Photo: Matt York

Following Boeing’s announcement earlier this month that it planned to release a series of updates to its operational training and 737 Max jets no later than next month, the Wall Street Journal reported that those changes have been “tentatively” greenlit by Federal Aviation Administration officials, though further checks and ground tests are needed prior to rollout.

Citing government sources familiar with the matter, the Journal reported Saturday that an expected software update to Boeing’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) feature on 737 Max aircraft will make the anti-stall system “less aggressive and more controllable by pilots.” Per the Journal:

The modifications, officials said, create a gentler stall-prevention feature, redesigned so it won’t overpower other cockpit commands or misfire based on faulty readings from a single sensor. It is devised to automatically push the nose down only once—for no longer than 10 seconds—if the aircraft is in danger of stalling and losing lift.

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Also part of anticipated forthcoming changes is better training for crew operating the planes, which the Journal reported will involve interactive computer courses as well as more information about how the MCAS function works and how to disable it. The changes may arrive in the coming weeks, the paper said.

An FAA spokesperson told the Washington Post in a statement that it “expect[s] the software fix early next week; and we will evaluate it at the time.”

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Boeing said in a March 11 press release that it was working with the FAA on enhanced training and a software update involving the MCAS feature that would be released “no later than April.” The company specifically cited in its release Lion Air Flight 610, one of two recent deadly crashes involving 737 Max 8 planes. Investigators have been probing the extent to which a faulty software issue was involved in the Lion Air crash that killed 189 people in October.

Following an Ethiopian Airlines crash involving a Max 8 aircraft that killed 157 people in early March—and which investigators say bears “clear similarities” to the Lion Air crash last year—the company announced that it would be grounding all of its 737 Max 8 and Max 9 models. Boeing said the suspension applied to its global fleet of 737 Max jets totaling 371.

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Boeing CEO, president, and chairman Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement at the time that while it maintained “full confidence” in the model’s safety, the suspension was issued “out of an abundance of caution.”

“Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes; and it always will be. There is no greater priority for our company and our industry,” Muilenburg said. “We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again.”

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[Wall Street Journal]