US regulators on Wednesday said that Boeing Co must address a new “potential risk” in the Boeing 737 MAX, further clouding the time frame for resuming service on the planes after two deadly crashes.
The issue, which surfaced during US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) simulator testing, concerns the ability of pilots to quickly reassert control of the plane if an automated flight handling system pushes the plane downward, a person familiar with the matter said.
The FAA “will lift the aircraft’s prohibition order when we deem it is safe to do so,” the agency said in an e-mail. “The FAA recently found a potential risk that Boeing must mitigate.”
Boeing said the software fix for the 737 MAX that it has been developing for the past eight months does not currently address the matter.
“The Boeing Company agrees with the FAA’s decision and request and is working on the required software to address the FAA’s request,” Boeing said in a securities filing. “Boeing will not offer the 737 MAX for certification by the FAA until we have satisfied all requirements for certification of the Max and its safe return to service.”
In a media statement on Wednesday, the company also said addressing the “condition” would cut pilots’ workloads “by accounting for a potential source of uncommanded stabilizer motion.”
Boeing’s global fleet of 737 MAX planes has been grounded since mid-March following two crashes, which claimed 346 lives.
A key step in the certification is an FAA test flight, which has still not been scheduled until at least the week of July 8, a person familiar with the matter said.
Even before this latest issue surfaced, the outlook for getting the planes back in the air was uncertain, in part because the FAA would like other regulators to approve the plane’s re-entry soon after the US agency.
Some regulators have expressed support for requiring simulator training for pilots on the 737 MAX, an idea that was also endorsed last week by retired pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger at a US congressional hearing.
A requirement to have pilot simulator training would add cost and time to a resumption, in part because there are only four 737 MAX simulators on the market now.
Still, some panelists at the hearing noted that simulators on earlier Boeing 737 models could potentially be used.
US carriers such as American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have pushed back their time frame for flying the planes again until the end of summer.
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