Boeing’s new CEO won’t officially take over until Jan 13, but he already faces two problems in getting the 737 MAX jetliner back in the air: hardware and additional pilot training.
A newly discovered potential problem with wiring in the Boeing 737 MAX and the likelihood that regulators will require pilots to undergo flight simulator training could further delay recertification of the jet and increase the strain on the company’s finances, according to news reports.
The New York Times reported on Monday that two bundles of wires in the tail of the plane may be too close together and could short-circuit, forcing the flight crew to make quick decisions to avoid a crash.
Boeing informed the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about the possible problem in December, and the company’s new CEO, David Calhoun, discussed preliminary wiring changes last week, the newspaper reported.
It’s unclear if a similar problem exists in the 737 NG, the predecessor to the MAX. There are about 6,800 NGs in service.
Boeing said in a statement on Monday that it had identified the issue and “we are working with the FAA to perform the appropriate analysis. It would be premature to speculate as to whether this analysis will lead to any design changes.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that federal regulators are considering mandatory flight-simulator training for pilots before recertifying the MAX for commercial service.
The newspaper also said that Boeing may issue as much as $5 billion in new debt to meet financial demands created by the MAX’s grounding.
The company had about $20 billion available at the end of September, the company’s financial statement said, but more may be needed as expenses mount, the Journal reported, including airlines seeking compensation for lost revenue due to the MAX’s grounding and families of those killed in the Indonesian and Ethiopian crashes seeking compensation.
Boeing also must make payments on previously issued bonds and dividends to shareholders.
The MAX is Boeing’s top-selling plane and therefore key to the company’s profitability and long-term strength.
Additional flight-simulator training, also being considered by regulators in other nations, would mark a reversal of the FAA’s previous stance and could further delay the MAX’s return to the air, the newspaper said, citing government and industry officials familiar with the situation.
The FAA isn’t expected to announce its decision on the need for additional training until February at the earliest. The FAA declined to comment on specifics, noting that further analysis and testing are needed before making a decision, the newspaper said.
Boeing said in a statement on Monday that “the ultimate decision lies with the FAA and global regulators and Boeing will follow their recommendation”.’
The company has said additional flight simulator training for MAX air crews isn’t needed beyond what flight crews received for prior 737 models. But the FAA may now require further training because Boeing plans to rewrite some flight emergency checklists while creating new procedures.
Also, some cockpit alert lights will be updated to notify the crew of potential problems with the aircraft’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), the automated anti-stall system blamed for two crashes that killed a total of 346 passengers and crew.
Preliminary findings suggest the MCAS erroneously pointed the nose of the planes flown by Lion Air in Indonesia and Ethiopian Airlines in Africa down to avoid a midair stall and into a fatal plunge.