After two fatal crashes involving Boeing’s 737 Max in March of 2019, the FAA and other aviation regulators pulled the 737 Max from the skies. Over the past year, Boeing has been fighting to get the planes recertified for air travel, but regulators have been reluctant to allow the plane back into the air after the deaths of 346 people in those crashes.
Now, the FAA has proposed four design and operating changes that must be fixed before the planes can fly again. These changes are meant to address the safety issues that led to the two fatal crashes.
According to reports, the fatal crashes were caused by a malfunction in an anti-stall system known as the MCAS. The MCAS reportedly tried to push the noses of the planes down even though they were correctly positioned. The pilots could tell that the MCAS was malfunctioning but, unfortunately, they could not follow the recovery procedures specified by Boeing. The pilots were therefore unable to get control back over the aircraft.
The FAA’s proposal would require Boeing to take certain steps before the 737 Max could return to the air:
- Update the flight-control software
- Revise the display-processing software to generate alerts
- Revise certain flight crew operating procedures
- Change the routing of certain wiring bundles to comply with wire separation safety standards
Additionally, the agency proposes that operators of the 737 Max conduct an “angle of attack” sensor system test and also perform an operational readiness flight before the Max returns to service.
The agency said that the proposed changes would minimize “dependence on pilot action and the effect of any potential single failure.”
The proposal is in line with what experts and Boeing had expected, although the announcement has come after a series of delays. The proposal also has to go through the public rule-making process, which includes giving the public the chance to comment on the changes for 45 days and finalizing new pilot training procedures.
Considering the work left to be done, and the fact that regulators from Canada and Europe have their own concerns about the Max, it is not clear whether the Max could resume flying this year.
According to Reuters, the FAA’s investigation has taken over 18 months so far and has involved over 40 full-time staff, including engineers, pilots and inspectors. The agency has conducted over 60,000 hours of review, document evaluation and certification testing to get to this point.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency wouldn’t comment on the FAA’s proposal, but stated it is planning to conduct its own test flights before lifting the flight ban on the 737 Max. Canadian regulators would also have to approve lifting the flight ban.