737 Max Software Fixed, But FAA Scrutiny Looms
Boeing reported on May 16th, 2019, that its 737 Max software has been fixed, but the 737 planes won’t be taking to the skies just yet, according to Daniel Elwell, the FAA’s acting administrator.
The Boeing 737 Max will only be allowed to return to service once “the FAA’s analysis of the factual and technical data indicates it is safe to do so,” Elwell said the day before.
In addition, Stephen M. Dickson, who President Trump has nominated to run the FAA, assured the Senate that the planes would not fly again unless they were shown to be safe, saying, “I would never re-certify an airplane that I would not put my family on.”
Boeing’s software fix focused on a feature which automatically compensated for the plane’s nose tending to point upwards, which happens because the engines were moved forward on the 737 Max compared to previous versions of the 737. This feature activated when it should not have during the October 2018 737 Max crash in Indonesia, Elwell told the US House of Representatives on May 15th, 2019. The feature kept pointing the nose of the plane downwards and the pilots should have turned off the motors which were forcing the plane downwards, but they did not.
The pilots in the March 2019 737 Max crash in Ethiopia did turn the correct motors off, but they didn’t control the speed of the plane properly after doing so, and turned the motors back on about a minute before the plane crashed”, Elwell said.
Boeing says it has completed test flights using the new, modified software. The next step is to conduct test flights with FAA personnel aboard to evaluate the software’s functioning during flight. It is unclear how long FAA certification of the new software will take.
Boeing says that no further pilot training will be required as a result of the software fix. The recent fix allows the software to utilize two external sensors instead of one, and lessens the force of the automated nose tilting so that it will not overwhelm pilots.
Lion Air Flight 610 crashed in Indonesia in October 2018, killing all 189 people aboard. Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed in Ethiopia in March 2019 shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 people aboard.
Boeing faces several lawsuits for the Lion Air and Ethiopian Air crashes. As of May 2019, forty cases have already been filed against Boeing in federal court related to the Lion Air crash. Boeing is also facing lawsuits from investors who claim Boeing withheld knowledge of software issues to inflate the value of their stock.
The aviation lawyers of Nadrich & Cohen continue to actively investigate claims on behalf of family members who lost a loved one in the Lion Air or Ethiopian Air tragedies.