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FAA meets with airlines and pilots to discuss 737 Max

The Federal Aviation Administration briefed airline and pilot representatives on 12 April to review the state of the 737 Max grounding – a meeting sources say comes amid geopolitically-charged questions about pilot training and aircraft certification.

The FAA called the 3h meeting in Washington, DC to review three items: preliminary reports into two 737 Max crashes, Boeing’s anticipated update to the 737 Max’s flight control software and pilot training, says the agency.

The meeting also gave FAA acting administrator Dan Elwell opportunity to “hear from the participants for a fuller understanding of the safety issues presented by the Boeing 737 Max”.

Attendees included representatives from three US airlines and their unions. United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines operated 737 Max prior to last month’s grounding.

“Elwell said that he wanted to know what operators and pilots of the 737 Max think as the agency evaluates what needs to be done before the FAA makes a decision to return the aircraft to service,” the FAA says. “Elwell said that the participants’ operational perspective is critical input as the agency welcomes scrutiny on how it can do better.”

Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The meeting left some sources with the impression that FAA officials feel optimistic about actions being taken by Boeing.

The discussions raised questions about pilot training, the actions of the pilots in the cockpit of the Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max that crashed in March, and the regulatory system that certified the type’s manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system (MCAS), say sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

An erroneous MCAS activation has been identified as a contributing factor to both the October 2018 Lion Air and March Ethiopian 737 Max crashes.

“Geopolitical issues continue in their complexity and they will intertwine with everything from crew training and experience to the pilot supply/demand equation, to codeshare agreements and subsidies, and much more,” Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) president Jon Weaks says in a letter distributed to union members immediately after the meeting.

“The FAA flight safety board is continuing to evaluate Boeing's proposed software changes, and the FAA, as well as SWAPA, are still waiting on a final proposed training product from Boeing,” says Weaks’ letter. “Boeing will, and should, continue to face scrutiny of the ill-designed MCAS and initial non-disclosure of the new flight control logic.”

Weaks’ letter also notes the preliminary report into ET302 raises questions about, “Ethiopian procedures regarding stick shaker, unreliable airspeed procedures, auto-throttle procedures, flight mode selection training, autopilot engagement and use procedures, when the recommended runaway stabiliser and MCAS procedures were followed, and airspeed overspeed recognition and procedures”.

His letter also touches on the FAA’s certification process, which involves delegating some work to designated employees at manufacturers through a process called “organisation designation authorisation”.

With the FAA short on resources, that process “may be too ingrained to reverse,” Weaks writes.

The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents United’s pilots, also confirms its attendance but had not yet prepared a statement.

The Allied Pilots Association, which represents American’s crews, could not immediately be reached.

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