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Boeing has announced that it has completed a software update for the 737 Max aircraft that was involved in two fatal crashes.
The aircraft manufacturer says it has finished development of the update for the plane’s Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), along with simulator testing and an engineering test flight. The company claims 737 Maxes with the updated software have completed more than 360 hours of air time on 207 flights.
Boeing will now provide further information to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has asked for details on how pilots interact with the aircraft controls and displays in different flight scenarios. From there, the firm will work with the regulator to schedule a certification flight to clear the 737 Max to return to the skies.
The global fleet of 737 Max aircraft was grounded in March following an Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 people on board. Five months earlier, the same model was involved in a Lion Air accident in Indonesia, in which 189 passengers and crew died.
Investigators have linked the disasters, pointing to a potential fault with the MCAS, which was designed to keep the aircraft from stalling if sensors detect that the Angle of Attack (AOA) on take-off is too steep. The system is a new feature on the 737 Max and data recovered from both flight recorders showed the planes’ noses had been forced down repeatedly before crashing.
It has since come to light that an alert system that warns pilots if the sensors produce conflicting data was offered to airlines as an optional feature at an additional cost. Last week, Boeing admitted that it had “inadvertently” made this extra safety feature elective rather than standard but did not immediately take action.
Boeing began working on the software fix after the Lion Air crash last October, intending to fix the problem, but it was not completed before the Ethiopian Airlines disaster.
The firm has since temporarily dialled back production of the aircraft to deal with a pause in deliveries and reported a 21 per cent drop in earnings for the first quarter as a result of the 737 Max issues.
Commenting on the completion of the update, Boeing CEO and president Dennis Muilenburg said: “With safety as our clear priority, we have completed all of the engineering test flights for the software update and are preparing for the final certification flight. We’re committed to providing the FAA and global regulators all the information they need, and to getting it right. We’re making clear and steady progress and are confident that the 737 Max with updated MCAS software will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly. The accidents have only intensified our commitment to our values, including safety, quality and integrity, because we know lives depend on what we do.”
In addition to the software fix, the company says it has developed enhanced training and education materials that are being reviewed by global regulators and airlines to support the aircraft’s return to service.