In a small step towards returning Boeing Co.’s 737 Max to service, US regulators are revising requirements for how airlines must operate the plane if equipment breaks down.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued proposed new rules for airline operations on the Max that adapt to the fixes being finalised for the grounded jetliner. The public has 30 days to comment on the document, which was posted on the FAA’s website.
Boeing is finalising changes to a flight-control system linked to two crashes, in Indonesia and Ethiopia, that killed 346 people. The manufacturer is also altering the plane’s flight-control computers after tests showed they were vulnerable to failure.
The company must complete an audit of the software changes and test the revised system in flight simulators with a variety of pilots. In addition to signing off on the redesign, the FAA is devising new pilot training.
One of the more technical steps in the process is to revise what’s known as the Master Minimum Equipment List, which lays out conditions under which an operator can fly the aircraft with a variety of malfunctions. Major breakdowns require that a plane get fixed before flight, but airlines can fly with relatively minor malfunctions if there are adequate backups and repairs are performed within a prescribed time.
Previously, airlines operating the Max were allowed to fly in limited circumstances with just one of the plane’s two flight-control computers functioning. Each computer contains its own backup system, so FAA concluded it wasn’t a safety hazard to fly with only one for brief periods.
However, Boeing is changing the computer software so that in the future each of the two computers will be constantly monitoring the other. The changes will create greater redundancy for the plane, which was adapted from earlier versions, making it more in line with newer aircraft.
Because the two computers will rely on each other, airlines shouldn’t be allowed to fly the plane without both systems, the FAA concluded, according to a question-and-answer document prepared for family members of victims in the two Max crashes.
“The FAA proposes that both flight control computers be required, which reflects Boeing’s new software architecture that requires both computers,” the agency said in the document.
“This is a positive sign of the measured approach for ensuring the safe return to service of the 737 Max and the thorough approach by the FAA in this process,” Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman said in an email.
It’s not clear how the FAA action will affect the timing of the return of the 737 Max to service. Even if the agency approves the software changes Boeing is making, the plane can’t fly passengers until the equipment rules are finalised, which won’t occur until January at the earliest.
While such decisions by FAA are almost never contentious, it’s possible the agency’s work could be slowed if it receives numerous dissenting opinions during the public comment period.
Boeing hit with $3.9mn fine for ‘safety lapses’
The US government hit Boeing Co. with a proposed $3.9 million fine, saying the planemaker installed substandard parts on 133 aircraft and didn’t properly oversee its suppliers.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the parts in question were installed on the wings of Boeing 737 jets to allow devices known as slats to move back and forth.
The civil penalty comes as the company has been embroiled in controversy over how it designed its 737 Max, which was involved in two fatal crashes that killed 346 people and has been grounded since March 13.
The FAA alleged Boeing “knowingly” sought FAA certification of aircraft that had the faulty parts installed, after determining that the devices had failed a strength test.
The so-called slat tracks, which were supplied by subcontractors, had become brittle during a process to add a cadmium-titanium plating, the FAA said.
Boeing has 30 days to respond to the FAA and may dispute the allegations. The regulator often negotiates to lower penalties, particularly if companies agree to take steps to address the issue under review.
The planemaker said in an emailed statement that it’s aware of the FAA allegations and is working closely with its customers to address the issue. No planes currently in service have any of the faulty parts, the company said.
“Safety and quality are Boeing’s top priorities, and Boeing has made a number of significant changes to our organisation and processes in recent months that will reinforce and enhance this commitment,” Boeing said.
The company in 2015 agreed to pay a $12 million fine and to take steps to improve its internal compliance methods to settle multiple cases under investigation by the FAA.
The FAA had charged in that instance that Boeing was too slow to produce fuel-tank safety devices that were ordered by the government, according to a press release by the agency. A second case alleged that the company failed to maintain quality control and allowed the use of unauthorized fasteners on its 777 aircraft.
In the latest action, the faulty parts were installed on 737 NG planes as well as its successor, the Max family. The issue prompted FAA to order urgent inspections of more than 300 planes in June.