CLEAR THE AIR

Boeing will address concerns over the 737 Max on a conference call with airlines

The Boeing 737 Max aircraft.
The Boeing 737 Max aircraft.
Image: Reuters/Jason Redmond
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Boeing will hold a conference call with airline operators today (Nov. 20) to answer questions about the new 737 Max aircraft and its flight systems, three weeks after a Lion Air plane of the same model crashed into the sea, Bloomberg reported (paywall).

Boeing declined to comment on the call. In response to earlier queries from Quartz, it has said the 737 Max is safe, and that it is working with airlines and regulators to understand what happened to the Lion Air flight.

The invitation to airlines to partake in the call comes after Indonesian investigators focused on the role of a new anti-stall system in the Lion Air crash, which killed 189 people less than 15 minutes after take-off on Oct. 29. The anti-stall system uses data from an “angle of attack” sensor to adjust the plane’s nose down when the relation of the aircraft to oncoming wind indicates that it may not be able to maintain lift.

In certain conditions, the system can cause the nose to point down sharply and suddenly. In this case, faulty sensor data may have led the system to engage in the maneuver. Indonesia has said pilots on the flight were getting incorrect airspeed readings, which also happened on earlier flights using the same craft.

After Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration issued safety directives on dealing with the situation, pilots and airline regulators responded to say that the feature—known as Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS—wasn’t adequately publicized and that flight crews thus weren’t prepared on how to handle it, even as the aircraft is phased in by dozens of carriers.

As of the end of October, Boeing had received 4,783 orders for its 737 Max planes—dubbed the “short-haul plane of the future” because of its fuel efficiency and cabin capacity—and delivered 241 of them. More than 70 carriers have placed orders for them, including many budget carriers in Asia, and at least 40 carriers have received the craft. Just this week, Indian budget carrier SpiceJet is due to begin a Delhi-Hong Kong flight using the aircraft, while Fiji Airways plans to begin using it on flights to New Zealand in December.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week (paywall) that Southwest Airlines recently replaced two flight-control sensors, the same kind now under scrutiny on the Lion Air flight, on its 737 Max planes. It also reported that Boeing is working on a possible software fix to the safety issue.

Indonesia is due to release a preliminary report on its investigation early next week. While much still remains unclear about the crash, parents of a young doctor who died on the Lion Air flight have brought a lawsuit in the US against Boeing.

Here’s a list of airlines that have received their 737 Max’s so far: