Federal regulators on Friday briefed pilots and U.S. airlines on progress in restoring Boeing Co.’s grounded 737 Max to flight, according to a pilots union spokesman who gave no indication when the jet will return to service.
“We’ve taken off our watches and put the calendars in the drawer,” Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, said after the session at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration offices in Washington on Friday.“We’re walking down that path, we’re not running.”
He said the group discussed the preliminary investigative findings by Ethiopian and Indonesian authorities into the two crashes involving the jetliner over the past six months and the proposed software updates to prevent it from happening again. Additional training for pilots will be required, and work developing it is in the initial stages, he said.
He said the next major milestone for pilots is having a training program put together.
The half-day meeting included representatives of the three U.S. airlines that fly the 737 Max and pilots unions as part of the FAA’s review of the plane’s safety. The FAA is working with Boeing as it develops a software upgrade and proposes to increase the level of training that 737 Max pilots must receive.
The FAA grounded the 737 Max on March 13, three days after the second fatal crash involving the jet in five months. The agency and Boeing are now working to restore confidence in the 737 Max’s safety with the public and regulators around the world, which halted flights before the U.S.
“The airplane certainly has to go through a lot of hoops to get ungrounded, but one of the last and, we believe, most important is the pilot confidence,” Tajer said. “We have to unground the confidence in this aircraft, and that will come through information like we just had here, being at the table, training, feedback, and just what we call the safety culture.”
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told House lawmakers on Wednesday that the FAA was still awaiting Boeing’s final package of software updates for the Max’s anti-stall countermeasure suspected of being a factor in the recent 737 Max crashes. She said the agency would not approve the changes until it was satisfied that the jets were safe.
Boeing’s software update prevents faulty readings by the plane’s angle-of-attack sensors from triggering the so-called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, the stall countermeasure suspected of being a factor in the two crashes, Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s chief executive officer, said Thursday. The updated software has been tested in 96 flights totaling nearly 160 hours, and more tests are planned in the coming weeks, he said.
“We appreciate being included in today’s meeting, and we’re confident in the direction the FAA is heading,” American Airlines said in a statement Friday. “We’ll continue to work collaboratively with the FAA, Boeing and the Allied Pilots Association in this process.”
United Airlines issued a statement saying it supported the effort of regulators and investigators.
“As we have said, the very foundation of safety of the U.S. airline industry is built on rigorous data analysis and evidence-based independent oversight, and we look to investigators and regulatory authorities to continue those vital efforts,” the airline said.
Southwest Airlines has dropped the 737 Max aircraft from its schedule through the first week of August, signaling it expects the jets to be grounded for most of the busy summer travel season.
—With assistance from Justin Bachman and Mary Schlangenstein.
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