UPDATED 16.30 March 12, 2019: The UK, Germany, Austria, France and Ireland have all also grounded the planes. There are five 737 MAX aircraft registered in the UK, all belonging to the world’s largest tourism company TUI, which said it would discontinue using the 737 Max across all six airlines in its group.
Boeing will deploy a software upgrade to its 737 MAX 8 aircraft “within weeks” after the FAA announced it would mandate “design changes” in the aircraft by April.
The decision follows two crashes of the aircraft within five months that killed 346.
The company has faced strident criticism that pilots were not informed of a safety feature on the aircraft, an automated anti-stall system—or how to troubleshoot its failure. One 737 captain, Dennis Tajer, told Reuters that his union members were only informed of a new anti-stall system after the Lion Air crash.
Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told Bloomberg in the wake of the 29 October crash: “We don’t like that we weren’t notified.”
The pilots on the first flight that crashed appeared to struggle with the new feature in the 737 Max family. During the 29 October flight, the plane’s automatic anti-stalling system repeatedly forced the plane’s nose down, even when the plane was not stalling – possibly due to a faulty sensor, a report by Indonesian investigators said.
Boeing Software Upgrade: Pilot Can Override
In a statement published late Monday, Boeing said: “In the aftermath of Lion Air Flight 610, Boeing has 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.”
Australia was the latest country this morning to ground the planes however. The country’s civil aviation authority announced the move after Brazil, China, Indonesia, Mexico, Singapore and South African all suspended flights using the plane.
Boeing said: “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 FAA has not mandated any further action or the grounding of the planes.
The company said its Flight Crew Operations Manual (FCOM) explains how to override systems manually in the “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.”