The Wall Street Journal reports that the Federal Aviation Administration has “tentatively approved sweeping software and pilot-training changes” for Boeing’s 737 MAX jet, a fix that could allow pilots to exert more control over an automated system that is thought to have been the cause of a deadly crash in Ethiopia last week, and could allow carriers to being flying the grounded aircraft once again.
The WSJ says that the software updates will scale back the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) redesigning it “so it won’t overpower other cockpit commands or misfire based on faulty readings from a single sensor,” and will only activate once, for a short duration in the event that there is an issue. The FAA has “tentatively approved,” the update, but it needs to go through simulations and flight testing. If it works and is formally approved, the update could be issued in “the next few weeks.” The agency didn’t comment to the WSJ about the specifics of the changes. Furthermore, Boeing has said that it will include a warning light designed to warn pilots that was previously part of an optional package that carriers could purchase.
Last week’s crash shared similarities with another deadly crash in Indonesia last October, and investigators believe that both crashes stemmed from the same issue: an automated system designed to prevent the plane from stalling. Boeing rolled out the plane in 2017 as a fuel-efficient competitor to the Airbus A320, and the updated plane which came with some design changes to the 737 airframe — upgraded engines and design, which tended to push the nose of the plane up. To account for that, Boeing put into place the MCAS, which would bring the nose down automatically.
It’s thought that that system is what brought down the planes in Ethiopia and Indonesia, and has raised questions about how Boeing handled how it disclosed the system and trained pilots on its use. Previously, Boeing had touted the fact that the plane was similar enough to the existing 737 plane that pilots wouldn’t need to go through extensive retraining — those pilots trained on an iPad.