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MAX grounding to run months as Boeing chief speaks of pain

April 17, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

As American Airlines reveals it will cancel 115 Boeing 737 MAX flights a day throughout the busy northern summer travel season and into August, the head of Boeing has said the past few weeks “have been the most heart-wrenching” of his career.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines last week removed the grounded MAX from its schedules until 5 August 2019. It flies more MAX planes than any airline, with 34 in its fleet of 750 jets.

American Airlines, the world’s largest airline, has now followed Southwest’s lead and cut back its northern summer flight schedule because of the MAX grounding. American’s chief executive, Doug Parker, said the airline was “highly confident” the MAX would be recertified to fly before the August date. Consultations with the US Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing indicated that, he said.

United Airlines, meanwhile, is pulling all 737 MAX flights from its schedules until at least early July.

Boeing is working on software updates to prevent the repeated triggering of a system that can force the plane’s nose down. Apart from the software, the reputation of the 737 MAX aircraft will need a lot of work. Before the grounding, apps were circulating which let users identify flights operated by MAX aircraft, so they could avoid them.

MEANWHILE, Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg has spoken of Boeing’s “enduring values of quality, safety and integrity”.

Muilenburg told an audience at the George W. Bush Presidential Centre’s annual leadership forum that the Boeing team had been “devastated” by the recent Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Lion Air Flight 610 tragedies.

“We continue to mourn those who were on board and extend our deepest sympathies to their loved ones,” he said.

“All of us feel the immense gravity of these events across our company, and frankly these last few weeks have been the most heart-wrenching of my career.

“Our values are at the very core of everything we do. Yet, we know we can always be better, and these recent accidents have intensified our commitment to continuous improvement as we design, build and support the safest airplanes in the sky. That’s our responsibility as a leader in the aerospace industry. That’s what we do at Boeing. We own it.”

Muilenburg said Boeing had hosted more than 200 regulators and airline officials for an informational session in Seattle last month, “and over the last two weeks we’ve conducted similar meetings in the UK, Singapore and China with international airline pilots and regulators.

Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg

“Pilots and leaders from 6% of our more than 50 MAX operators worldwide have participated in a simulator session that included the new software update.”

The Boeing chief spoke of the values driving Boeing’s work.

“First, it’s important to communicate clearly and openly. In the weeks since the Ethiopian Airlines accident, I’ve spent even more time with our teams, traveling frequently, walking the floor and meeting with those who are working on the front lines of our 737 airplane program. I’ve encouraged our leaders  to do the same with their global teams. It’s important that people’s concerns are heard and that their questions answered. In times like these, it’s not possible to over-communicate, and I’ve been updating our people frequently as details emerge and are available, and it’s appropriate to do so aligned with our international aviation protocol.

“As we learned the facts, I also reached out to our airline customers, partners and communities in open letters and videos to share our support of the investigations, and the steps underway to avoid future accidents and our ongoing priority of safety.

“Second, it’s a focus of all our leaders to invest in our team and empower others. As we continue working closely with our airline customers and global regulators to return the 737 MAX to service, I’m focused on making the adjustments necessary to allow our teams to prioritize additional resources and focus on the recovery efforts.

“From the days immediately following the Lion Air accident, our top engineers and technical experts have been working tirelessly in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration and our customers to finalize and implement a software update that will ensure accidents like these never happen again.

“The update will make the 737 MAX even safer by preventing erroneous angle of attack sensor readings from triggering the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, something that initial investigation reports indicate occurred in both MAX accidents, as one link in a longer chain of events. We know we can break this chain link. It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk.

“We’re taking a comprehensive, disciplined approach—and taking the time—to make sure we get it right.

“Third, we must deliver results with excellence in all that we do. I joined our Boeing test pilots last week aboard a 737 MAX flight for a demonstration of this updated software. During the flight, the crew performed different scenarios that exercised the software changes in multiple flight conditions. The software update functioned as designed, and I was impressed by the work and professionalism of our team.

“Overall, our team has made 96 flights totalling a little over 159 hours of air time with the updated software. They will conduct additional test and production flights in the coming weeks as we continue to demonstrate that we’ve identified and met all certification requirements. We look forward to completing near-term milestones on the path to final certification.

“Finally, it’s about building lasting relationships based on trust and integrity. We know every person who steps aboard one of our airplanes places their trust in us. We’ll do everything possible to earn and re-earn that trust and confidence from our airline customers and the flying public in the weeks and months ahead. We take the responsibility to build and deliver airplanes that are safe to fly and can be safely flown by every single one of the professional and dedicated pilots all around the world. My team and I are working closely with our customers to answer their questions, get their feedback and ensure those who operate the MAX are prepared when the grounding is lifted and the fleet returns to flight.”

Written by Peter Needham

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