Federal regulators said Monday they will require several design changes to the Boeing 737 Max to fix safety issues that arose in two deadly crashes and led to the worldwide grounding of the plane.
The Federal Aviation Administration proposed software change requirements in the flight-control computers, new alerts to pilots under some conditions, and the rerouting of some wiring on the planes.
The proposed changes deal with issues that mostly have been raised before. The public will have 45 days to comment on the FAA’s decision.
It is not clear when the FAA will lift its March 2019 order grounding all Max jets, which followed similar orders by regulators in the rest of the world. Boeing officials said last week they hope to win regulatory approval to resume deliveries of completed Max jets in the fourth quarter of this year.
“We’re continuing to make steady progress towards the safe return to service, working closely with the FAA and other global regulators,” said Boeing spokesman Bernard Choi. “While we still have a lot of work in front of us, this is an important milestone in the certification process.”
Airlines began using the Max in 2017. There were nearly 400 in service when the planes were grounded after a 2018 crash in Indonesia and a 2019 crash in Ethiopia. In all, 346 people died. Investigators have pointed to the role played by flight-control software that pushed the noses of the planes down based on faulty sensor readings.
The FAA has been harshly criticized by families of the passengers killed in the crashes and by members of Congress, who have found fault in the agency’s original decision to certify the Max. In Monday’s proposed airworthiness directive and an accompanying 95-page report, the FAA detailed how it identified and responded to safety problems that became evident from investigations into the crashes.
The FAA plans to require changes to a flight-control system called MCAS to prevent it from misfiring and make it less powerful so that pilots can respond if it mistakenly pushes the plane’s nose down. Pilots – who didn’t know about MCAS until after the first crash – would also receive more training.
The agency said that when its work is done, “the 737 MAX will be safe to operate and meet FAA certification standards.”
The Max was once Boeing’s best-selling plane, but the crashes and subsequent grounding turned it into a disaster to the company’s reputation and finances. Internal emails showed employees worrying about safety and bragging about deceiving regulators. Surveys show a significant number of travelers are hesitant about flying on the plane.
Max-related costs drove Boeing to a $636 million loss last year, the first since 1997. So far this year, Boeing has suffered 382 order cancellations and dropped another 323 from its backlog because the sales are uncertain. Almost all were Max orders.
Many airlines have stood by Boeing and the Max, however. Southwest, Boeing’s biggest customer, is still committed to the plane and looks forward to its return, airline CEO Gary Kelly said last month. Boeing paid Southwest $428 million in compensation last year over the Max grounding.