Day after an Ethiopian Airlines plane, a new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, crashed claiming nearly 157 lives, Boeing has said it will deploy enhanced software across the 737 MAX fleet in the coming weeks. Boeing said it had been working on the software enhancement for the last several months, “and in the aftermath of Lion Air Flight 610 accident” that took place in Indonesia in October 2018. The Lion Air plane was also a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.
“Boeing has been working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on development, planning and certification of the software enhancement, and it will be deployed across the 737 MAX fleet in the coming weeks. The update also incorporates feedback received from our customers,” the company said in a statement.
While 157 people died in the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash, the Lion Air crash in Indonesia had claimed 189 lives. The Ethiopian Airlines has grounded the 737 MAX planes, as has been done by China, Singapore and a few other countries.
In its statement, Boeing said on Tuesday: “Safety is a core value for everyone at Boeing and the safety of our airplanes, our customers’ passengers and their crews is always our top priority. The 737 MAX is a safe airplane that was designed, built and supported by our skilled employees who approach their work with the utmost integrity.”
Boeing said it had been developing a flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, “designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer”. “This includes updates to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight control law, pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training. The enhanced flight control law incorporates angle of attack (AOA) inputs, limits stabilizer trim commands in response to an erroneous angle of attack reading, and provides a limit to the stabilizer command in order to retain elevator authority.”
According to Boeing, the FAA anticipates mandating this software enhancement with an Airworthiness Directive (AD) latest by April.
The company said a pitch augmentation control law (MCAS) was implemented on the 737 MAX “to improve aircraft handling characteristics and decrease pitch-up tendency at elevated angles of attack”. “It was put through flight testing as part of the certification process prior to the airplane entering service. MCAS does not control the airplane in normal flight; it improves the behavior of the airplane in a non-normal part of the operating envelope.”
According to Boeing, its 737 MAX Flight Crew Operations Manual already outlines the procedure for safe handling of an unlikely event of erroneous data coming from an angle of attack (AOA) sensor. “The pilot will always be able to override the flight control law using electric trim or manual trim. In addition, it can be controlled through the use of the existing runaway stabilizer procedure as reinforced in the Operations Manual Bulletin (OMB) issued on Nov. 6, 2018,” it said.
Earlier, in a statement issued after the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash on Monday, the company said: “Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team.”
A Boeing technical team has been sent to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and US National Transportation Safety Board.
“It is still early in the investigation, as we seek to understand the cause of the accident,” Boeing said on Tuesday.