CHICAGO/WASHINGTON • Teams from the three United States airlines that own B-737 Max jets headed to Boeing's factory in Renton, Washington, to review a software upgrade on Saturday, as US regulators prepared to receive and review the fixes in the coming weeks.
The factory visits indicated Boeing may be near completing a software patch for its newest B-737 following a Lion Air crash that killed 189 in Indonesia last October. Earlier this month, a second crash involving an Ethiopian Airlines Max in Addis Ababa, which killed all 157 on board, triggered the fleet's worldwide grounding. It is uncertain when passenger flights will resume.
Boeing has come under global scrutiny and monitoring by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the agency that must approve the software fix and new training.
Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines - the world's largest Max operator - began parking its fleet at a facility in Victorville, California, at the south-western edge of the Mojave Desert, to wait out the global grounding. Southwest has 34 of the jets, American Airlines has 24 and United Airlines has 14.
Acting FAA administrator Dan Elwell told US lawmakers last week that the agency expected Boeing would complete its upgrade as early as today, kicking off the approval process. An FAA spokesman said on Saturday that the agency was expecting to receive the software fix early next week.
A US official briefed on the matter said on Saturday that the FAA has not yet signed off on the upgrade and training, but the goal is to review them in the coming weeks and approve them by next month.
It remained unclear whether the software upgrade, called "design changes" by the FAA, will resolve concerns stemming from the ongoing investigation into the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash.
The US official said planned changes included 15 minutes of training to help pilots deactivate the anti-stall system known as the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System in the event of faulty sensor data or other issues. It also included some self-guided instructions, the official added.
The Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents American Airlines pilots, said it has been in talks with Boeing, the FAA and airlines to get the airplanes flying again as soon as possible with an acceptable level of safety.
"Right now, we're in a wait-and-see mode to see what Boeing comes up with," said APA spokesman Jason Goldberg, who is part of a delegation of airline safety experts and pilots set to test the upgrade. "We're hopeful, but at the same time the process can't be rushed," added Captain Goldberg.
Boeing said on Saturday it was continuing to schedule meetings with all B-737 Max operators. Southwest and United said they would review documentation and training associated with the updates.