The US Federal Aviation Administration has released an initial review by a board of experts that deems additional pilot training covering controversial Boeing 737 MAX software to be “operationally suitable”.
The FAA draft report from the Boeing 737 MAX Flight Standardization Board stopped short of recommending costly simulator training for pilots when the planes are returned to service and instead accepted Boeing’s plan for more computer-based courses.
The report is open for public comment over the next 14 days.
The recommendations did not cover the software fix itself and noted Boeing was “still expected in the coming weeks to submit the final software package for certification”.
The 737 MAX fleet has been grounded since March 13 after a software enhancement, the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS), was implicated in two MAX crashes within five months of each other.
The crashes involving Indonesia’s Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines together killed 346 people.
Boeing has modified MCAS with the aim of preventing similar accidents and has proposed more computer-based training for 737 pilots to give them a better understanding of the MAX speed trim system, the MCAS function and associated procedures.
The FAA report said the board evaluated the changes in March for a training and checking differences determination and found the system “to be operationally suitable.”
Operational suitability, according to definitions in the report, is a determination an aircraft or system may be used in the US National Airspace System and meets the applicable regulations.
The Board found Level B training was sufficient for initial, transition and upgrading training between 737NG and the 737 MAX aircraft.
Level B training is aided instruction using methods that could include an audio-visual presentation, tutorials on computers or stand-up instruction.
But it said the training must include a special emphasis on the function of MCAS as part of the speed trim system and the software’s role in providing pitch stability.
“MCAS ground training must address system description, functionality, associated failure conditions, and flight crew alerting,’’ it said. “These items must be included in initial, upgrade, transition, differences, and recurrent training.”
The FAA convened a meeting to discuss training and other issues on April 12 with safety representatives of the three US airlines that operate the MAX as well as the pilot unions for those airlines.
The regulatory agency said the meeting, which included acting administrator Dan Elwell, covered three major agenda items.
These were a review of the publicly available preliminary findings of the investigations into the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents; an overview of the anticipated software enhancements to the MCAS system; and, an overview of pilot training.
It said presentations by FAA experts allowed for an open exchange between all participants.
“In his opening remarks, Elwell characterized the meeting as a listening session for the FAA to hear from the participants for a fuller understanding of the safety issues presented by the Boeing 737 MAX,’’ the FAA said.
“Elwell said that he wanted to know what operators and pilots of the 737 MAX think as the agency evaluates what needs to be done before the FAA makes a decision to return the aircraft to service.”
The latest development comes as US President Donald Trump tweeted that Boeing should rebrand the MAX, saying he would add “some additional great features” and change the name.
United Airlines also joined Southwest Airlines and American Airlines in extending MAX-related cancellations.
United didn’t go as far as the other airlines and extended the cancellations until early July compared to early to mid-August.
The airlines have said they are canceling flights so they have certainty over scheduling in the busy peak US summer period.
However, American said it did not believe the grounding would last that long and that it could introduce MAX aircraft back into the fleet as spare aircraft over summer if they were given the green light to fly again.
United, which has 14 MAX aircraft, said it had been trying to minimize the impact of the grounding by using other spare aircraft, but this would not be possible in summer.