Tuesday 22 October 2019

Boeing vows to restore faith in airliner with changes to flight control system

The software in a new automated system is suspected of playing a role in two crashes that killed 346 people.

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 (Mulugeta Ayene/AP)
An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 (Mulugeta Ayene/AP)

By Tom Krisher, David Koening and Marcy Gordon, Associated Press

Boeing has confirmed there will be changes to the flight control system on its under-fire 737 Max airliner as it vowed to restore faith in its plane.

The US plane maker invited about 200 pilots from several airlines to its Seattle-area facility to explain the changes.

The company said pilots will be required to take a computer-based training course with about 30 minutes on the flight control software before they can fly the Max. It includes a knowledge test at the end.

Boeing will also put information about the software in flight crew manuals.

Mike Sinnett (Ted S Warren/AP)

The firm’s vice president of plane development, Mike Sinnett, repeated Boeing’s confidence in the safety of the plane.

“We are working with customers and regulators around the world to restore faith in our industry and also to reaffirm our commitment to safety and to earning the trust of the flying public,” he said.

The Max, featuring bigger and more efficient engines, came into service in 2017.

The software in a new automated system that can push the plane’s nose down to prevent an aerodynamic stall is suspected of playing a role in the October 29 crash of a Lion Air jet in Indonesia, and has also come under scrutiny after the Ethiopian Airlines disaster on March 10.

The scene of the Ethiopian Airlines crash (Mulugeta Ayene/AP)

In all, 346 people died.

The plane was grounded around the world after the Ethiopia crash.

Boeing’s announcement came as the US Federal Aviation Administration defended the agency’s practice of relying on aircraft makers to help certify their own planes.

Acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell said the strategy has “consistently produced safe aircraft designs for decades”.

He said the agency would need 10,000 more employees and an extra 1.8 billion dollars (£1.3 billion) a year to do all the work carried out by designated employees of the companies it regulates.

Daniel Elwell (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Under the self-certifying programme, employees perform tests and inspections needed to win safety approvals, with the FAA overseeing the work.

The approach is credited with holding down government costs and speeding the rollout of new models, but it has been seized on as evidence of an overly cosy relationship between the FAA and the industry.

Senator Richard Blumenthal said at a Senate subcommittee hearing that delegating safety work to the companies puts “the fox in charge of the hen house”.

“The fact is that the FAA decided to do safety on the cheap, which is neither safe nor cheap,” Mr Blumenthal said, as he vowed to introduce legislation to change the system.

Transportation Department inspector general Calvin Scovel III said the FAA plans to significantly revamp its oversight of aircraft development by July, but the department gave no indication that it intends to abandon the collaborative approach.

Boeing said the process by which it designs, develops and tests planes has led to safer air travel, and it sees no need for an overhaul.

The FAA and the industry say that deputising private employees to do safety-related tasks is vindicated by the nation’s safety record — one passenger accident death in the US in the last 10 years from millions of flights.

PA Media

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