Boeing has dropped its resistance to pilot simulator training as it seeks to return its 737 MAX fleet to the skies – almost ten months after all planes were grounded.
The crisis-hit company confirmed on Tuesday that it was to make the recommendation to regulators as they determine whether the planes, hailed for their fuel efficiency, are safe to fly again following two fatal crashes.
All versions of the 737 MAX were grounded worldwide in March last year – days after an Ethiopian Airlines plane came down outside Addis Ababa, and five months after a Lion Air flight suffered a similar fate near Indonesia.
A total of 346 people died.
Modifications have mainly focused on the software controlling an anti-stall device called the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
Officials from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are due to meet Boeing this week for a progress report on the documentation they need as part of an audit process.
The time frame to achieve new safety certificates, allowing the planes to fly again and for Boeing to commence backlogged deliveries to airlines, has taken its toll on the company financially.
It is reassigning 3,000 staff to work on other projects as it prepares to suspend production of the MAX for an unspecified time.
It was announced just days before Christmas that chief executive Dennis Muilenburg was given his marching orders amid criticism of the firm’s handling of 737 MAX development and the aftermath of the crashes.
A number of carriers, including American Airlines and Turkish Airlines, have secured confidential compensation payments believed to run into hundreds of millions of dollars as airlines demand redress for grounded planes, missed deliveries and curtailed growth ambitions.
Ryanair is among other airlines known to be pressing Boeing for compensation.
Reuters news agency has reported it could be several months yet before regulators are in a position to clear the planes to fly again.
Updated training is a crucial part of the process.
Boeing had previously insisted that pilots should only need computer-based training on the new flight control software.
It has admitted mistakes in the development of the original system – with MCAS blamed for giving pilots contradictory information both in testing and in flight.
The company said of its decision to support full simulator training on the updated software: “This recommendation takes into account our unstinting commitment to the safe return of service as well as changes to the airplane and test results.
“Final determination will be established by the regulators,” it said.
The recommendation, if agreed, may mean it takes longer for airlines to resume 737 MAX flights – costing Boeing and potentially its customers even more money.
There is market speculation Boeing could be forced to slash its research and development spending and even go cap-in-hand to investors as it seeks to plug the cash outflow.
It was revealed last month that the MAX crisis had taken such a toll that fierce European rival Airbus had overtaken Boeing as the world’s largest producer of commercial aircraft in 2019 for the first time in eight years.