Federal aviation regulators are considering mandatory flight-simulator training before U.S. pilots can operate Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX jets again, according to government and industry officials familiar with the deliberations, a change that would repudiate one of the plane maker’s longstanding arguments.The central selling point of the 737 MAX was that 737 NG pilots could transition to the newer plane with little more than an hour or so training session on an iPad.
The Federal Aviation Administration months ago rejected the idea—which would entail extra costs and delays for airlines—as unnecessary. But in recent weeks, these officials said, requiring such training before returning the grounded U.S. MAX fleet to the air has gained momentum among agency and industry safety experts.
“The deliberations appear headed for a much different direction than before,” according to one of the officials, who described increased FAA emphasis on the topic.
Boeing has long maintained 737 MAX pilots don’t need supplemental simulator training beyond what pilots receive to fly other 737 models, a stance that many FAA officials now regard with increasing skepticism, according to the officials.
The FAA’s changed outlook on simulator training has arisen partly because Boeing and regulators are proposing rewriting some emergency checklists for pilots and creating some new ones, according to some of these officials.
In addition, one of these officials said, the FAA expects certain cockpit alert lights to be updated so they can notify crews of potential problems with an automated stall-prevention feature called MCAS. Misfires of that system led to two fatal MAX nosedives in less than five months, taking 346 lives and resulting in global grounding of the planes in March.
Simulator training typically is used to ensure flight crews understand and can respond appropriately to numerous changes in emergency procedures or alerts.
Since at least early fall, regulators in Europe, Canada and some Asian markets have signaled they are leaning toward mandating extra simulator training as part of their independent reviews of the MAX’s safety.
Complicating the FAA’s decision is an industrywide shortage of functioning 737 MAX simulators.
In response, the FAA, Boeing and airlines are considering installing new software in existing 737 NG simulators so they can better mimic the characteristics of MAX jetliners, according to these officials.
Meanwhile, agency chief Steve Dickson, a former airline captain and safety executive, plans to personally test software fixes and training changes as soon as the end of January or early February.
A year ago, when the FAA was analyzing earlier versions of MCAS fixes, Boeing argued strongly against upfront simulator requirements. The company said in a letter to the agency that differences between 737 NG and MAX models relating to the MCAS software “do not affect pilot knowledge, skills, abilities or flight safety.” At the time, FAA and Boeing officials tentatively agreed on training sessions that aviators could perform by themselves on tablets or laptop computers.
Separately, a broader internal review of the MAX’s design by Boeing, extending well beyond software questions, has uncovered a potential safety problem stemming from the location of certain wire bundles inside the tail.
An FAA spokesman said the agency will ensure that all safety related issues identified during the review process are addressed before the MAX is approved for return to passenger service.
This is not going to happen, and it appears that the timeline of certification for the aircraft is still uncertain.
Unless the name of your airline rhymes with mouth-fest, there is no reason for an air carrier to order a new narrow body from Boeing.