New Report Finds Boeing 737 MAX Autopilot Could Fail During Emergencies

Jul 6, 2019

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Issues plaguing the Boeing 737 MAX, which is currently grounded worldwide, reportedly go beyond the aircraft’s flawed MCAS. One of Europe’s top aviation regulatory agencies has found new flaws with the MAX’s Autopilot system, reports Bloomberg.

According to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), in some emergencies the Boeing 737 MAX’s Autopilot may fail to disengage, preventing pilots from taking manual control of the aircraft.

The new problem was raised by the EASA and included in a list of requirements sent to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that would need to be met before the Boeing 737 MAX can be recertified in the European Union. According to Bloomberg, the list of requirements for recertification includes issues that are “consistent with the FAA’s own questions.” However, this new concern involving the 737 MAX’s Autopilot that has not been raised in the past.

The Infamous Boeing 737 MAX MCAS

Problems with the Boeing 737 MAX’s Autopilot had not previously been brought up by US regulators or Boeing. Rather, both US regulatory agencies and Boeing disclosed issues pertaining to the Boeing 737 MAX’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.

To counteract the nose-up angle on the Boeing 737 MAX as a result of modifications made to accommodate the aircraft’s larger engines, the MCAS was designed to prevent the nose of the aircraft from pitching up during takeoff and at other times throughout the flight. The MCAS is now implicated in two fatal crashes involving the Boeing 737 MAX, leading to the plane being grounded worldwide.

Grounded American Airlines 737 MAX aircraft at Tulsa Airport (TUL) (Image courtesy of American Airlines)

For more than three months now, Boeing has been working to develop a solution to fix the flawed MCAS in order to allow the Boeing 737 MAX to take to the skies again. While it appears that Boeing has made progress on addressing the flawed MCAS, the EASA’s list of demands raises additional questions and concerns that could prolong the ground of the Boeing 737 MAX.

The Boeing 737 MAX’s Autopilot Could Fail During Emergencies

With Autopilot playing a crucial roll aboard airliners, even minor issues could potentially create problems for pilots. During emergency operations, pilots typically disengage autopilot if in use, giving pilots manual control of the aircraft. Manual mode allows pilots to have greater control over an aircraft in the event of an emergency. The EASA found that the Boeing 737 MAX could potentially prohibit pilots from taking manual control of the aircraft during such emergencies.

The flight deck of a Boeing 737 MAX 7 as seen in 2018 (Image by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The flight deck of a Boeing 737 MAX 7 as seen in 2018 (Image by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Bloomberg is reporting that the FAA has yet to comment on the EASA’s list of requirements and assessment. It is unclear whether or not US regulatory agencies and Boeing were aware of this flaw, and whether these issues involving the Autopilot will further delay the Boeing 737 MAX’s recertification.

In the meantime, Boeing is pledging to pay out $100 million over several years to aid families, municipalities and local organizations affected by the two deadly crashes of its 737 MAX aircraft.

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