Boeing chief Dennis Muilenburg said Wednesday that company test pilots are flying the 737 MAX out of Boeing Field with the needed software fix “in its final form,” and that the jetmaker had successfully completed “the final test flight prior to the certification flight.”
The certification flight is one where pilots and technicians from the Federal Aviation Administration put the airplane through its paces, recording the flight data for analysis to see if it complies with requirements for approval to return to flight. That analysis could take weeks or months.
“We completed the official engineering flight test of the updated software with our technical and engineering leaders on board the airplane,” Muilenburg said, speaking on video after a test flight at Boeing Field.
Muilenburg spoke on a day when the Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau offered an opinion that could complicate the MAX’s re-entry into service.
Garneau broke with the FAA’s recommendation yesterday that pilots would need only computer-based training on the new 737 MAX software, saying that he’d prefer pilots be required to fly the new flight control software in a full-flight simulator.
The update is a fix for the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) automatic flight control software that is new on the MAX model. It was triggered erroneously on the two recent fatal plane crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, pushing the nose of each jet relentlessly down.
Muilenburg, Boeing’ chairman and CEO, said the jetmaker has now conducted 120 test flights of the 737 MAX with the updated MCAS software installed, amounting to more than 203 hours in the air.
He said he flew on his second demonstration flight on Wednesday, “and saw first-hand this software, in its final form, operating as designed across a range of flight conditions.”
He said Boeing has also offered MAX operators around the world the chance to experience the updated software in a flight simulator session to reassure them that it works as advertised and that the scenario that played out in the two crashes cannot recur with this update.
“We’re comprehensively testing the software to make sure that it does the job,” Muilenburg said. He reiterated his promise that when it returns to the air, the MAX will be “one of the safest airplanes ever to fly.”
The remarks by Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau Wednesday add another hurdle Boeing must jump.
Garneau said that the planes would be grounded “for as long as it takes” and pilots should experience the fixes Boeing is devising in simulators instead of relying only on more basic, computer-based ground training.
“I feel very strongly about simulators and I say that for having trained for about 16 years as an astronaut that simulators are the very best way,” Garneau said in answer to questions at an unrelated event in Montreal. “From our point of view, it’s not going to be a question of pulling out an iPad and spending an hour on it.”
Garneau’s comments stand in contrast to a proposal released by the FAA on Tuesday that concluded that with the new software, the differences between the 737 MAX and the most recent earlier models weren’t significant and there wasn’t a need for additional simulator time for pilots transitioning from one plane to the other.
The report was written by the Flight Standardization Board, a group made up of FAA pilots and industry experts, after a new review was conducted last month after two fatal crashes involving the plane.
The 737 MAX was grounded March 13 after the crashes were linked to an automated safety system that mistakenly thought the plane was entering an aerodynamic stall and repeatedly pushed down its nose and confused pilots.
The FAA is still waiting for Boeing to formally submit the software fix for the plane, though its engineers have been working closely with the manufacturer.
Because the plane was built in the U.S., the FAA will be the first agency to decide what new training and software changes are needed. Other nations, including Canada, have the authority to keep the plane grounded in their countries.
Material from Bloomberg News was included in this story.