Mar 27, 2019

Boeing unveils software updates to embattled 737 MAX jet

Workers at Boeing factory

Workers stand under the wing of a Boeing 737 MAX airplane at the Boeing Renton Factory in Renton, Washington. Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images

Boeing on Wednesday met with "more than 200 airline pilots, technical leaders and government regulators" to unveil new fixes to the MCAS software system for its 737 MAX series jet, following new scrutiny and investigations into what caused 2 MAX 8s to crash in less than 6 months, killing a total of 346 people.

Catch up quick: The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) is an automated system Boeing installed to prevent the aircraft from stalling (losing lift) by pushing the plane's nose down in particular circumstances. A malfunction with this system, where it appeared to activate based on faulty readings from a flight sensor, is the suspected cause of both crashes.

Details of the updates, per Boeing's website:

  • The MCAS will now compare inputs from both angle-of-attack (AOA) sensors. If the sensors disagree by 5.5 degrees or more with the flaps retracted, MCAS will not activate. An indicator on the flight deck display will alert the pilots.
  • If MCAS is activated in non-normal conditions, it will only provide one input for each elevated AOA event. There are no known or envisioned failure conditions where MCAS will provide multiple inputs.
  • MCAS can never command more stabilizer input than can be counteracted by the flight crew pulling back on the column. The pilots will continue to always have the ability to override MCAS and manually control the airplane.

What's next: Boeing plans to send the software updates and new plans for pilot training to the Federal Aviation Administration for review by the end of this week, according to CNBC.

  • Reality check: The new updates are nowhere near close to getting certified, given there numerous ongoing investigations by multiple U.S. and international agencies.
  • The FAA itself is currently under scrutiny for not grounding the 737 MAX jets faster and for delegating certification activities to Boeing.

Go deeper: Everything you need to know about the Boeing 737 MAX crashes

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