American Airlines Pilots to Train in Simulator That Mimics Boeing 737 MAX Software Issues

Apr 16, 2019

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American Airlines pilots will soon receive Boeing 737 MAX flight training in a simulator, a report in The Wall Street Journal says.

Previously, pilots at American and at other US airlines did not train for the MAX in a simulator. The change at American Airlines represents a significant shift because the carrier repeatedly said its pilots did not need additional simulator training to qualify for the newest version of the 737 if they were already qualified for the earlier 737-800 variant. Pilots’ training on the aircraft has been under increased scrutiny after the MAX’s safety was called into question by two similar crashes thought to be caused by a software system on the aircraft.

When the plane model was first released, American gave its pilots qualified to fly Boeing 737-800s a supplemental iPad-based training program that lasted about an hour, Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the American Airlines pilot union, told Quartz in March. Tajer said that after the first MAX crash on Lion Air, American’s MAX pilots received more training with an instructor and that the pilots had “requested, if not demanded, simulators.”

The Federal Aviation Administration does not mandate that US pilots train for the potential software problems in simulators. In fact, an FAA-appointed board of expert pilots concluded Tuesday that it did not believe pilots would need additional simulator training once MAXes are returned to service, Bloomberg reports. Southwest and United, the other two US airlines that have MAX planes in their fleets, reportedly are not considering simulator training for their MAX pilots.

“Preliminary analysis of the incidents involving Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines show stabilizer trim system issues may be one of the causal factors – something our pilots are thoroughly trained on,” United Airlines said in a statement to TPG. “Our training is consistently refreshed and updated, and we will make any updates to our training necessary should the FAA decide more is required as part of their ongoing investigation.”

TPG‘s requests for comment to Southwest went unreturned.

Unnamed officials told the Journal that American’s MAX pilots will go through the simulator training as soon as late summer. The simulator will include activations of the system, dubbed MCAS, that will mimic what is currently known to have occurred on the two ill-fated flights that collectively killed 346 people.

“The enhanced training also will deal with similar emergency situations in which pilots need to intercede to manually correct movement of flight-control surfaces on the jet’s tail,” the Journal says. MCAS automatically pushes the aircraft nose downward if it senses a stall is possible, forcing pilots to intervene manually if they want to disconnect it. The system likely caused the roller coaster of altitude changes that ended in deadly nosedives on both Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302.

“As a result of the continuing investigation in to both aircraft accidents, we are looking at the potential for additional training opportunities in coordination with the FAA and Allied Pilots Association (APA),” American Airlines told TPG in an emailed statement.

American Airlines has taken its 737 MAX planes off its schedule into August, and the planes remain grounded worldwide.

*This post has been updated with American and United’s statements to TPG.

Featured photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

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