Boeing Details 737 Max Software Fixes

Mar 28, 2019
Originally published on March 28, 2019 11:29 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Boeing, the maker of the 737 Max, insists it is now fixing a steering mechanism - the mechanism suspected of a role in two crashes. Company Vice President Mike Sennett unveiled software fixes meant to prevent future crashes.

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MIKE SENNETT: We mourn this loss of life. And we're going to do everything that we can do to ensure that accidents like these never happen again.

INSKEEP: NPR's David Schaper was there.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: As part of its all-out effort to restore trust in the safety of its airplanes, Boeing allowed reporters into its 737 assembly plant in suburban Renton, Wash.

The plant is massive - almost 1,200 feet long and 750 feet wide. Workers at various stations, on three lines of planes, put the pieces and parts together at a pace of 52 planes a month. Teams of airplane designers and engineers work in cubicles or at tables just to the side of the production lines, allowing them to check on progress and troubleshoot problems as they come up.

The work continues even though the finished planes won't be delivered to airlines while the 737 Max remains grounded. And that may be for some time yet.

JON OSTROWER: There is a degradation - strong degradation of trust that's taken place here.

SCHAPER: Jon Ostrower is a veteran aviation journalist and editor of the online aviation trade publication "The Air Current."

OSTROWER: And Boeing has to rebuild that.

SCHAPER: To that end, Boeing brought in about 200 industry leaders, pilots and regulators from around the world, yesterday, to detail software fixes to an automated flight control system, known as MCAS, on the 737 Max. Again, Jon Ostrower.

OSTROWER: We're seeing the rubber meeting the road again, which is - what changes are going to be required to make sure that this airplane can fly and fly safely with the confidence of regulators and passengers?

SCHAPER: The company outlined improvements that include the MCAS system relying on data from two sensors, instead of just one, to determine if the plane is in danger of an aerodynamic stall. If activated, the system will only act once instead of repeatedly forcing the nose of the plane down. And pilots will be able to override the automated system by pulling back on the control column. In addition, warning lights alerting pilots to a problem with the sensors will become standard. And Boeing will enhance training for pilots on all of these changes.

JASON GOLDBERG: We're certainly very pleased that the training course will include a thorough description of the MCAS system.

SCHAPER: Captain Jason Goldberg is a 737 pilot for American Airlines and a spokesman for the pilots union.

GOLDBERG: We're optimistic, but we're still cautious. We really believe that the software fixes have to be thoroughly vetted by the regulatory agencies and by the pilots who are going to be flying these aircraft. We don't want to see this process rushed or fast-tracked.

SCHAPER: That's unlikely with so much scrutiny coming down now on Boeing and the FAA, which some accuse of relying too heavily on Boeing's own safety assessments in its certification of the 737 Max.

The Department of Transportation's inspector general and a federal grand jury are investigating. There is a congressional inquiry.

And Boeing's fixes really only address what is believed to be partly to blame for the Indonesian crash. Despite similarities between the two, the cause of the Ethiopian crash has not yet been determined. David Schaper, NPR News, Seattle.

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