Boeing may retrofit new cockpit warning light on its Max fleet

A Boeing 737 Max 8 airliner takes off from Renton Municipal Airport near the company's factory in Renton, Washington on March 22, 2019.
A Boeing 737 Max 8 airliner takes off from Renton Municipal Airport near the company's factory in Renton, Washington on March 22, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • Boeing plans to offer as standard a safety feature that might have warned earlier of problems that possibly played a role in the crashes of Ethiopian and Indonesian planes that killed almost 350 people, two officials briefed on the matter said on Thursday.

Boeing will mandate a previously optional cockpit warning light as part of a software update to the B-737 Max fleet that was grounded in the wake of the fatal crashes, said the officials, who asked not to be identified.

The March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 on board has set off one of the widest inquiries in aviation history and cast a shadow over the Boeing Max model intended to be a standard for decades.

Initial investigations show similarities between the Ethiopian crash and the Indonesian accident last October that killed all 189 crew and passengers.

A direct link between the crashes has not been proven, but attention has focused on an automated flight-control system, MCAS (Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System), that came into service two years ago with the Max.

Chicago-based Boeing, which the officials said will also retrofit older planes with the cockpit warning light, previously offered the alert, but it was not required by aviation regulators.

It is unclear how long it will take Boeing to refit existing Max planes with new software or hardware.

 
 
 

Experts said it could take weeks or months to be done, and for regulators to review and approve the changes. Regulators in Europe and Canada have said they will conduct their own reviews of any new systems.

The MCAS software is designed to prevent a loss of lift which can cause an aerodynamic stall, sending the plane downwards in an uncontrolled way.

In the Lion Air crash, it may have been erroneously activated by a faulty sensor, investigators believe.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said installation of the new software and related training is a priority.

Boeing did not immediately comment on the plan to make the safety feature standard.

However, in London on Thursday, Mr Randy Tinseth, Boeing's vice-president of commercial marketing, said the manufacturer is moving quickly to make software changes, and expects the upgrade will be approved by the FAA in the coming weeks.

"That includes changes in the control laws of the airplane, an update of the displays, the flight manual, as well as the training," he said at a conference, adding that Boeing has tested the improvements in a simulator and in the air.

The product and training updates were being made "to further improve the safety that ensures that this will not happen again", Mr Tinseth said.

REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2019, with the headline 'Boeing may retrofit new cockpit warning light on its Max fleet'. Print Edition | Subscribe