FAA finds issue with Boeing 737 MAX software fix

written by australianaviation.com.au | June 27, 2019
The 737 MAX is powered by CFM International Leap-1B engines. (Boeing)
A file image of a Boeing 737 MAX 8. (Boeing)

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it has found an issue with Boeing’s software fix for the grounded 737 MAX.

The FAA said in a statement on Wednesday (US time) it was continuing to evaluate Boeing’s software update to address an anti-stall feature on the 737 MAX that has been implicated in two fatal air crashes.

“On the most recent issue, the FAA’s process is designed to discover and highlight potential risks,” the FAA statement said.

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“The FAA recently found a potential risk that Boeing must mitigate.”

The anti-stall feature, known as the Manoeuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), was added to the 737 MAX as part of design changes to compensate for stall risk from the installation of larger engines further forward on the wing compared with previous 737 versions.

It tells the flight control system to change its Angle of Attack (AOA) downward if a stall risk is perceived.

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Boeing has said previously the updated software provided additional layers of protection if the AOA sensors provided erroneous data.

The airframer began updating the software after the crash of a Lion Air 737 MAX 8 off Indonesia in October 2018.

Then, in March 2019, the 737 MAX fleet was grounded globally after an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 crashed on March 10.

The two tragedies killed 346 people.

In a statement on Wednesday (US time) Boeing confirmed the FAA had found an issue with the software update.

“During the FAA’s review of the 737 MAX software update and recent simulator sessions, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) identified an additional requirement that it has asked the company to address through the software changes that the company has been developing for the past eight months,” the Boeing statement said.

“The FAA review and process for returning the 737 MAX to passenger service are designed to result in a thorough and comprehensive assessment.

“Boeing agrees with the FAA’s decision and request, and is working on the required software.”

Further, Boeing said addressing this condition would “reduce pilot workload by accounting for a potential source of uncommanded stabilizer motion”.

A file image of a Boeing 737 MAX flight deck. (Boeing)
A file image of a Boeing 737 MAX flight deck. (Boeing)

Boeing also referred to the software issue in a regulatory filing to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday.

The filing said the FAA had asked Boeing “to address, through the software changes to the 737 MAX that the company has been developing for the past eight months, a specific condition of flight, which the planned software changes do not presently address”.

“Boeing will not offer the 737 MAX for certification by the FAA until we have satisfied all requirements for certification of the MAX and its safe return to service,” the regulatory filing said.

American Airlines, Southwest and United have pulled the 737 MAX from their schedules until September.

In addition to the certification process for the MCAS software update, Boeing is also facing a class action from more than 400 pilots seeking compensation for financial and other losses following the global grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX fleet after the two fatal accidents.

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3 Comments

  • daveV

    says:

    The only realistic path for the FAA to regain credibility and for Boeing to finally put safety first is to decertify the Max. It is now clear that Boeing stretched safety standards when it upgraded its outdated, 50-year old 737 design to compete with Airbus’s modern A320neo airframe. The antique 737 simply cannot safely carry the larger and much heavier new engines. Its wings are too close to the ground, and that is impossible to change. All the software patches are but Band-Aids on a terminally ill patient.

    • Chris

      says:

      I agree with you. I think Boeing should stop upgrading the B737 and concentrate on developing the new NMA ‘B797’ catering for the 150 to 275 seat market with 3 models. The B787/B777 caters for the 275 seat market onwards. The E-Jet E2 family of jets can cater up to 150 seat market. Airbus has a better product in the 100-220 seat market with the A220 and A320/A321neos.

  • Aviator i.R.

    says:

    Fully agree with you Davev. Embraer can step in where Boeing has failed in terms of short-range aircraft. Embraer has got terrific aircraft that can fill the gap sooner or later. Boeing has to stop chasing Airbus. Airbus has won the race with its modified A320. Boeing’s credibility, faith and trust are gone. They gambled to high and fell badly but are not willing to admit it. The CEO Mr Muilenburg, if he has any moral decency left in him, should resign together with his PR team. Since the first crash and again after the second fatal accident, Boeing spearheaded by Mr Muilenburg was first to blame everybody, pilots, lack of training, engineers, even the airlines that purchased the MAX and others for the accidents. They tried everything to hide Boeing’s faults, gross negligence and tried everything to keep shareholder values and profits high.

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