Boeing urges simulator training for pilots of troubled jet

Boeing urges simulator training for pilots of troubled jet

OTTAWA—Boeing is recommending simulator training for pilots of the Boeing Max jet as it looks to satisfy regulators and get the troubled jet back in the air, 10 months after the aircraft was grounded following two fatal accidents.

That training would be in addition to computer-based training for Max pilots before the jets return to commercial service, the aircraft manufacturer said Tuesday.

“Public, customer and stakeholder confidence in the 737 MAX is critically important to us and with that focus Boeing has decided to recommend MAX simulator training combined with computer-based training for all pilots prior to returning the MAX safely to service,” interim Boeing CEO Greg Smith said in the statement.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would consider the request as part of its evaluation of the overall package of changes proposed by Boeing to address the design flaws cited in the crashes that killed 346 people.

Transport Canada grounded the aircraft in March, along with aviation regulators worldwide. Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau has favoured simulator training and said last year that airlines would have to train Max pilots in simulators before resuming service. “Simulators are the very best way, from a training point of view, to go over exactly what could happen in a real way and to react properly to it,” he said in April, according to a Canadian Press report.

At the time, Boeing and the FAA maintained that pilots already trained to fly the 737 did not require additional simulator training to transition to the Max models.

But the two crashes — and the questionable performance of both flights crews during the in-flight emergency — have made training and human factors a key element of the jet’s return to service.

The crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia in October 2018, followed by Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 at Addis Ababa last March have been blamed on the jet’s manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system (MCAS).

That system was installed on this latest version of the Boeing 737 to counter pitch characteristics of the new design. However, because of erroneous data, the system pitched the jets into a nosedive that the pilots were unable to recover from.

Boeing is working on design changes to ensure the system doesn’t needlessly activate and ensuring that pilots can override it. Yet there have been questions raised about the actions of the pilots in both crashes, prompting a call for improved training and procedures to deal with such emergencies.

“The FAA is following a thorough process, not a set timeline, to ensure that any design modifications to the 737 MAX are integrated with appropriate training and procedures,” the U.S. regulatory agency said Tuesday in a statement.

The FAA said it would evaluate Boeing’s recommendation as part of its ongoing certification work that includes inputs from U.S. and foreign airline pilots. Data from those tests will be used to develop official recommendations for training.

“The agency will not approve the aircraft for return to service until all parts of the certification process are completed to its satisfaction,” the FAA said.

The requirement could pose an extra hurdle for airlines to getting the jets back in operation, especially those that lack Boeing Max simulators.

And the requirement undercuts one of the original selling points of the redesign, that pilots flying older 737 models could be moved to the Max jets with minimal training, reducing costs for airlines.

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In Canada, WestJet, Air Canada and Sunwing have the aircraft in their fleets. Air Canada, which has 24 Boeing Max aircraft in its fleet and some 400 pilots assigned to the aircraft, does have a Max simulator.

“At this point we are still waiting to see what determinations the regulators make with respect to the aircraft’s return to service, so it is premature to comment on training requirements,” Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email.

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