This comes following the devastating Lion Air crash that killed 189 people on October 29. The US company has been relying on profit reaped from faster output of the narrow-body jet to ease financial strain from introducing its newest wide-body aircraft, the 777X. Both are major operators of the 737 variant, and both have numerous 737 MAX aircraft on order. Created to protect against pilots losing control, the sensor for the system on the Lion Air flight malfunctioned, causing the aircraft to take a sharp dive.
Citing "safety experts involved in the investigation, as well as mid-level FAA officials and airline pilots", the Journal reported Monday that the automated stall-prevention system on Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 models - meant to help cockpit crews avoid mistakenly raising a plane's nose dangerously high - "under unusual conditions can push it down unexpectedly and so strongly that flight crews can't pull it back up".
United is one of three US airlines that fly the Max, Boeing's newest model. Instead, at Lion Air, for instance, pilots who have recorded at least 500 flying hours on the previous 737 model, the NG, only need to undergo a three-hour computerised instruction on the differences between the two models, said Captain Dibyo Soesilo, the head of a Lion Air training centre and one of the carrier's Max 8 instructors.
Jefferies analyst Sheila Kahyaoglu says the firm's estimate "assumes deliveries of the 737 reach an average rate of 70/month in Nov. -Dec., which appears feasible, but rather hard".
"It is something we did not have before in any of our training".
American Airlines, which also operates the MAX8, also provided its pilots with new documentation on MCAS hurriedly provided by Boeing after the Lion Air crash. It essentially tricked the system into ordering a sharp dive.
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"The bottom line here is the 737 Max is safe", Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said yesterday.
In addition, he said, the onboard checklist that pilots had been carrying gave what now appears to be incorrect instructions for pulling out of the emergency condition that apparently confronted the Lion Air pilots.
The automated system is created to help pilots avoid raising the plane's nose too high, which can cause the plane to stall, or lose the aerodynamic lift needed to keep flying.
Because the Max 8 is a reworking of the 737, pilots do not need to undergo extensive specialised training in order to fly the latest model. Indonesian authorities suspect faulty sensor readings may have caused the Lion Air jet's computers to repeatedly press its nose downward before the plane accelerated into a final dive into the sea.
Lion Air, a discount carrier, is one of Indonesia's youngest and biggest airlines, flying to dozens of domestic and global destinations. The company told the Journal that it is "taking every measure to fully understand all aspects of this incident, working closely with the investigating team and all regulatory authorities involved".
Although divers have so far recovered the first black box, which points to a failure of the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System as a potential cause of the crash, the second black box, known as the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) is still missing. But details about the new feature, as well as what to do if it malfunctions, were not included in the aircraft's manual. According to Boeing, pilots could override the automatic response with a press of two buttons in the event of a system malfunction.