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  2. Boeing desperately needs to get the 737 Max back in the air. Getting it approved will be hard By Chris Isidore, CNN Business New York (CNN Business)Boeing's future rides on the success of the 737 Max. But all of those planes remain grounded, waiting for the world's aviation regulators to approve a software fix that will make them safer to fly. The 737 Max does not appear close to flying again. Aviation experts doubt global regulators will act in concert to approve the 737 Max for flight, because serious questions remain about how and why the FAA approved the 737 Max for flight and whether it rushed the certification process. The world's aviation authorities have lost confidence in the US Federal Aviation Administration. In the past when planes were grounded, other regulators followed the FAA's lead. When the FAA approved grounded planes to fly again, regulators around the world similarly let them fly too. That's what happened when the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was grounded because of battery problems in 2013. But this time, getting the FAA to sign off on the fix won't by itself solve Boeing's problems. That could be troubling news for Boeing (BA) as it tries to return the planes to service as soon as possible. The 737 Max is by far Boeing's bestselling plane, with orders for 5,000 of the workhorse single aisle jet on its books. Boeing's profit fell 21% last quarter because it halted 737 Max orders during grounding, and it has to reimburse airlines that have to use alternate planes. Boeing has already spent at least $1 billion on a software fix it hopes can get the planes back in the air. The stakes could not be higher for the company, America's largest exporter. Damaged credibility Boeing is seeking regulatory approval for its software fix a 737 Max automatic safety feature, which is the focus of the investigations into two recent fatal crashes. Questions about how the plane was certified in the first place means lifting the grounding won't be easy. The FAA's certification process is under investigation by Congress and the Department of Transportation. "Clearly confidence in the FAA as the gold standard in aviation safety has been shaken," DOT Inspector General Calvin Scovel testified at a Senate hearing last month. If global aviation regulators don't agree to end the 737 Max's grounding, that could create costly delays for Boeing. More than 80% of the 737 Max planes that are grounded are flown by airlines outside the United States. Boeing will need those aviation authorities around the globe to lift their orders grounding the jets for their customers to begin flying the planes once again. "It will be jarring if other countries don't immediately follow. I'll be disappointed. But I guess I won't be too surprised if other countries thumb their nose at us and don't follow immediately," said Jeffrey Guzzetti, a former director of the FAA's accident investigation division. Shanghai Airlines' Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes grounded at the airport in Shanghai, China. Authorities from nine different countries met for a week's worth of meetings in Seattle recently to discuss problems with the 737 Max. The group, dubbed the Joint Authorities Technical Review, was headed by Chris Hart, the immediate past chairman of National Transportation Safety Board, which is independent from the FAA. Hart told CNN Business he is "not confident at all" that countries will unanimously and simultaneously approve the 737 Max's return to service. Instead, each country may approve the plane on its own schedule. Aviation regulators have good reason to be skeptical about following the FAA's lead when lifting the grounding. Reports about the plane's certification have revealed a process in which Boeing, not the regulator, was calling many of the shots, and self-certifying the safety of many features. The FAA followed the company's desire to allow pilots of the original version of the 737 to fly the Max with only a brief online instruction rather requiring full simulator training. The ability to move pilots from one plane to the other was a selling point for Boeing as it took orders for the planes. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said last month that the company still believes that online training is all that will be needed when the plane starts flying again, but that it will follow whatever regulators require. Hart said he believes the FAA is "still recognized as the gold standard" for aircraft certification. But questions about its certification process for the Max were at the core of the meeting in Seattle. "We are not here to determine when to un-ground the plane," he said. "We are here to determine if the certification was robust and if it wasn't robust, what needs to be done to make it robust in the future." Boeing and the FAA both issued statements saying they were pleased to participate in the meeting. The FAA said the joint authorities will take a comprehensive look at its certification process. Boeing said it's confident the regulatory review will ensure the solution will "get it right." But the process to get the planes back in the air around the globe will be an uphill battle for Boeing. "It's hard to tell what is based upon genuine disagreement about safety, what is based upon lack of trust, and what is based upon not wanting to be seen as rubber stamping the FAA approval," said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst for the Teal Group. "But that's three reasons why it's going to be different this time."
  3. moeman

    Westjet Perhaps some foreshadowing about Swoop's future last week? "Meanwhile Swoop, WestJet’s discount brand, continued to struggle in the shoulder season, said chief financial officer Harry Taylor. Swoop was weaker than we expected and would have liked,” he said. “Awareness is so low. It hasn’t even had its first birthday yet.” READ MORE: Swoop Airlines adds Kelowna to its list of airports Competition among budget carriers is intensifying, with Swoop recently launching routes to Mexican and Caribbean hot spots to battle for customers with Transat A.T., Air Canada and Sunwing Airlines. The rivalries have spawned a predatory pricing investigation into WestJet and Swoop by Canada’s competition watchdog, following a complaint from Flair Airlines."
  4. ‘I will continue to fight for Quebec companies to stay here’: Quebecor mulls Transat acquisition By Christopher Reynolds The Canadian Press Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau addresses the media company's annual meeting as the chairman of the board Brian Mulroney looks on in Montreal on Thursday, May 9, 2019. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press The head of Quebecor Inc. says he is exploring a possible acquisition of Montreal-based tour operator Transat A.T., but another prospective buyer is already a step ahead. Chief executive Pierre Karl Péladeau said Thursday he has commissioned a financial analysis by an investment firm. “I believe it’s a very good brand. I think Quebecers like Transat,” he said Thursday after Quebecor’s annual shareholder meeting. “I will continue to fight for Quebec companies to stay here. I think that that could be an interesting…opportunity.” READ MORE: Pierre Karl Péladeau to buy Taxelco, including insolvent electric taxi company Peladeau, the controlling shareholder of Quebecor and son of its deceased founder, said he personally ordered the analysis — not his company — but “it’s premature to close any sorts of doors.” Peladeau is not the only interested party. Montreal developer Vincent Chiara, who owns Groupe Mach, which bought the former CBC tower in Montreal in 2017, told The Canadian Press he has already submitted an offer following several months of talks. “We had the idea of building a portfolio in the hospitality industry and they had a platform and projects in their plans to build exactly that,” said Chiara, referring to Transat’s $750-million plan to develop a hotel chain in Mexico’s Riviera Maya and the Caribbean. He said Transat’s fleet of about 40 planes is particularly appealing. “They have the means to move the passengers who go to the destination…They have an important capacity to fill rooms and with this capacity there, we eliminate a lot of risks for hotel development.” “Of course, we want to privatize. Our proposal is to buy out all the shareholders,” he added. READ MORE: Péladeau family squares off in court over Quebecor shares Transat confirmed last week it had spoken with several parties about a possible sale of the company. Péladeau continued to rail against Bell TV in the latest round of a spat between the two media giants, calling its actions “completely abhorrent” at the Quebecor AGM. In April, Péladeau temporarily suspended TVA Sports’ signal for Bell subscribers until a judge ordered the return of the service. Quebecor has criticized Bell for not paying it royalties that reflect the fair value of its specialty channels, especially TVA Sports, which is suffering because the Montreal Canadiens missed the playoffs for a second consecutive year. The hockey team’s losing record has hit advertising sales, raising questions about the viability of the specialty channel, which was launched in 2011 and has lost more than $150 million in six years. “Maybe we were a little bit naive regarding this,” Péladeau said. “We have been patient. But…there is always an end to patience.” “It’s wearing thin,” added chairman and former prime minister Brian Mulroney. READ MORE: Judge orders Quebecor to stop scrambling TVA Sports signal for Bell TV subscribers Quebecor more than doubled its dividend as it reported its first-quarter profit rose compared with a year ago. The media and telecommunications company said Thursday it will now pay a quarterly dividend of 11.25 cents per share, up from 5.5 cents. The increased payment to shareholders came as Quebecor says it earned $189.0 million or 74 cents per share in the first quarter of 2019, up from $57.1 million or 24 cents per share a year earlier. Revenue totalled nearly $1.03 billion for the quarter ended March 31, compared with $1.00 billion in the first quarter of 2018. On an adjusted basis, the Montreal-based company said it earned 44 cents per share from continuing activities compared with 38 cents per share a year ago. Analysts on average had expected a profit of 44 cents per share and revenue of $1.03 billion, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon. _ With files from Julien Arsenault © 2019 The Canadian Press
  5. Boeing Sends 737 Max to Brand Rehab to Avoid Fate of Ford Pinto By Julie Johnsson May 10, 2019, 2:00 a.m. PDTUpdated on May 10, 2019, 6:42 a.m. PDT Boeing Co.’s 737 Max is about to join the list of brands trying to come back from ignominy. Analysts are digging into decades-old safety scares for clues to the future of the jetliner -- and Boeing’s finances. There’s the Chevrolet Corvair rollovers that launched Ralph Nader as a consumer advocate in the 1960s, gas-tank explosions that sank Ford Motor Co.’s Pinto in the 1970s, and the Tylenol poisonings of 1982 that spurred tamper-proof packaging. But there’s little precedent for the tangle of safety, regulatory and financial issues buffeting a workhorse jet that’s vital to sustaining the surge in global air travel. After two crashes of the aircraft model in five months and a grounding that’s nearing the two-month mark, some nervous passengers are vowing to avoid the Max. Boeing has added to the mess by not fully explaining the apparent flaws in the best-selling jet in company history. Longtime Boeing watcher Nick Cunningham said he’s starting to wonder if “this has become too serious and too protracted for the Max to escape unscathed.” The accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people. Nader’s own grand niece was among the victims. The longer the crisis drags on, the greater the risk that the cumulative effect “will have acted to permanently lock it into people’s memories,” said Cunningham, founding partner at Agency Partners. Confidence Shaken Boeing is finalizing an update to software linked to both crashes, which it will submit to the Federal Aviation Administration in a crucial step toward getting the plane back in the air. A May 23 summit of global regulators “may lay out a path towards certifying fixes and removing the grounding,” Morgan Stanley analyst Rajeev Lalwani said in a note Thursday. Rebuilding consumer confidence is an urgent priority, as the Chicago-based company works with airlines to prepare resuming flights of the 737 model over the next few months. Boeing must also win over pilots, flight attendants and fractious regulators. Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg and commercial-airplane chief Kevin McAllister have been hosting regular conference calls with airline executives. And the company has invited Max operators and lessors to a half-dozen sessions around the world to discuss the specifics of the software changes, along with the logistics of taking planes out of storage. “It’s a multifaceted approach to taking the steps necessary to preserve the fleet, return it to service safely and restore any lost confidence that pilots, regulators and the traveling public have had in the Max,” Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. U.S. President Donald Trump has even weighed in with advice on how to rehabilitate the largest U.S. export, suggesting that Boeing re-brand its marquee single-aisle jet. “No product has suffered like this one,” he said in an April 15 tweet. There’s been “no discussion” of a name change, Johndroe said, including dropping “Max” and referring to the jet family by product numbers such as 737-8. Jetliner Recovery Commercial jetliner programs have recovered time and again from horrific accidents. The trend started at the dawn of the jet age with de Havilland Comets that blew apart due to a window-design flaw. A redesigned version was never a hot seller, but flew for the U.K. military until 2011. Bargain-hunting consumers in the Internet age quickly forgot their aversion to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner after battery fires grounded it in 2013. Back-to-Back 737 Crashes Have Few Parallels in Aviation History Brazil’s Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA is assuming the crisis will have faded by December. The company is already touting new, nonstop service from Sao Paulo to Lima starting Dec. 12 on a “modern Boeing 737 Max 8,” although an older model can be substituted if necessary. “The consumer has a very short attention span,” said George Ferguson, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. He pointed to United Continental Holdings Inc.’s rebound from social-media furor after one of its passengers was dragged off a plane. But Boeing is struggling against deep damage to its reputation as a safety-conscious designer of aircraft. Cunningham pointed to General Motors Co.’s Chevy Corvair and the Ford Pinto as cautionary tales. “Obviously GM and Ford survived the issues, but the Corvair and Pinto brands didn’t,” he said. “The cases are still remembered 40 or 50 years later.” Those scandals helped spawn safety regulations that transformed the auto industry. Boeing’s travails could spur a similar review of airplane certification and oversight amid criminal and Congressional investigations. The Tylenol poisonings are remembered today in part because Johnson & Johnson’s reaction became a case study in effective crisis management -- a feat that has so far eluded Boeing. ‘Wrong Calculation’ The planemaker worsened its own plight by waiting months to explain publicly how a software subsystem known as MCAS repeatedly shoved the nose of the doomed jets down, eventually overwhelming pilots. With the company facing $1 billion or more in potential liability from lawsuits, executives have been careful not to admit their approach was flawed. “They made the wrong calculation,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with Teal Group, in weighing short-term liability costs versus the risk of long-term brand damage. “Just explain what went wrong with the subsystem, and explain everything about it. Make this as transparent as possible.” Compounding its dilemma, Boeing revealed a separate problem with a cockpit warning light in late April. The company followed that up this week with an admission that it had known about the problem but waited about a year to tell airlines or the Federal Aviation Administration. “We have a number of areas where we know we need to improve, and transparency is one of them,” said Johndroe, the Boeing spokesman. Passenger Fears The lack of full disclosure has fanned a narrative that the Max itself is badly flawed because of its larger engines. Aboulafia, who forecasts aircraft markets, says his estimate of Max sales “is predicated on this getting better in the long run. If they make this worse by making it a publicly reviled product, all bets are off.” At stake is not just the manufacturer’s image, but the vitality of the jet that accounts for about one-third of Boeing’s profit and has added 4,625 unfilled orders to the company’s backlog. If demand fades because of jittery consumers, airlines could postpone deliveries or force Boeing into a pattern of deeper discounts that erode its profit and cash, Aboulafia said. Investors are counting on the furor dying down as global regulators sign off on the new software Boeing is finalizing. But 44% of travelers in North America and Europe say they would wait a year or more to fly the Max, according to a survey of 1,756 fliers by Barclays Plc. “I don’t know,” said David Strauss, a Barclays analyst, who downgraded Boeing after the study. “It feels different to me this time.” — With assistance by Fabiola Moura, and Rick Clough
  6. UPDATE: Boeing Did Not Fix MAX AOA Warning Issue Found in 2017 May 6, 2019 Sean Broderick | Aviation Daily WASHINGTON—New questions are being raised over the development and oversight of the Boeing 737 MAX after revelations the manufacturer knew about a mis-configured angle of attack disagree annunciator alert message on the aircraft in 2017 but did not fix it or tell operators about the problem until after last October’s crash of a 737 MAX 8—the first of two to strike the model in five months. Boeing on May 5 clarified that within “several months” after MAX deliveries began in May 2017, it discovered that most of its 737 MAXs were being delivered without angle-of-attack (AOA) disagree alert message being activated as intended. It determined the issue was not a safety risk, however, and planned to address it as part of routine flight control software updates. The revelation adds more context to why the amber AOA Disagree alert messages, meant to tell pilots of a discrepancy between the aircraft’s two AOA sensors, have only been active on MAX aircraft equipped with a package of options. “The Boeing design requirements for the 737 MAX included the AOA disagree alert as a standard, standalone feature, in keeping with Boeing’s fundamental design philosophy of retaining commonality with the 737NG,” Boeing said. “In 2017, within several months after beginning 737 MAX deliveries, engineers at Boeing identified that the 737 MAX display system software did not correctly meet the AOA disagree alert requirements. The software delivered to Boeing linked the AOA disagree alert to the AOA indicator, which is an optional feature on the MAX and the NG. Accordingly, the software activated the AOA disagree alert only if an airline opted for the AOA indicator.” Boeing’s statement does not discuss whether the software was developed to its specifications, or whether the vendor introduced the error. Boeing’s statement does not name the vendor, but it is Collins Aerospace. Collins referred all questions to Boeing. After it discovered the issue, Boeing said it followed its “standard process for determining the appropriate resolution of such issues,” including a review with “multiple company subject-matter experts.” The review “determined that the absence of the AOA disagree alert did not adversely impact airplane safety or operation,” Boeing said. “Accordingly, the review concluded, the existing functionality was acceptable until the alert and the indicator could be delinked in the next planned display system software update.” Boeing’s senior management was not involved in the review, and neither Boeing’s senior leadership nor FAA were made aware of the issue until after the Oct. 29, 2018, crash of Lion Air Flight 610. The AOA sensors provide key data to the MAX’s maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) flight control law that is the focus of two fatal 737-8 accidents—Lion Air flight 610 and the Mar 10 crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302—in which all 346 people were killed and that have left the MAX fleet grounded. In each accident, faulty data sent by one AOA sensor told the aircraft’s flight control computer that its nose was too high, causing MCAS to command horizontal stabilizer nose down trim. Preliminary reports on each accident suggest the pilots were not able to diagnose the failure quickly enough. The original MCAS is programmed to command nose down trim if the AOA data shows the angle of attack is too high. Pilots can counter it in two ways: with electric trim input or via the manual trim wheel. Electric trim input resets MCAS, meaning faulty AOA data would trigger it again after a 5 sec. delay. In both accident sequences, the pilots countered with electric trim, setting up the MCAS’s cyclical activation. Boeing’s safety analysis determined that crews would diagnose an unwanted MCAS activation as stabilizer runaway, and would follow the appropriate checklist, which includes de-powering the stabilizer trim motors by turning off the trim cutout switches, leaving the manual trim wheels as the only elevator trim inputs. The Ethiopian crew toggled off the cutout switches, but could not manually trim the aircraft at the relatively high indicated airspeed, so they turned on the trim cutout switches, which set the stage for MCAS to re-engage. Neither Lion Air nor Ethiopian Airlines had the optional AOA disagree indicator package. The accident sequences would have triggered AOA disagree alerts, adding it to several that activated, including a stick-shaker stall warning. Following the Lion Air accident, Boeing convened a “safety review board” (SRB) to revisit whether the AOA Disagree issue was a safety risk. “That SRB confirmed Boeing’s prior conclusion that it did not,” Boeing said. “Boeing shared this conclusion and the supporting SRB analysis with the FAA.” Addressing reporters following a Boeing shareholder meeting Apr. 29, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg downplayed the significance of the AOA Disagree alert’s role in delivering key information to pilots. “It’s not something that drives pilot action,” he said. “It’s not something that we designed in as a primary flight display in the flight deck of a commercial airplane. What pilots care about are things like altitude, airspeed, heading, pitch and roll. That’s what they fly. Those indicators are in the flight deck today. Airspeed and altitude in particular are the relevant items around these two [accidents].” Even if the absence of the AOA Disagree lights is not linked to either accident, the issue adds more questions to the MAX’s development, and how much airlines knew about changes from the 737NG. MCAS was not on the NG, and most pilots didn’t know it existed until after the Lion Air accident. Since just after the Lion Air accident, Boeing has described the AOA Disagree as an available option on the MAX, which was accurate. It was not until Apr. 29 that it explained the AOA Disagree’s status as an option was a mistake—it was supposed to be standard, as it is on the NG. Six days later, it acknowledged that it has known about this problem since mid-2017. Boeing is updating MCAS, using both AOA sensors to prevent the system from acting on a single faulty sensor. The changes also will limit MCAS’s authority, in part by removing its ability to reset itself and potentially fire again based on faulty AOA data when the crew provides electric stabilizer trim input to counter it. In addition, Boeing will make both the AOA disagree alerts and AOA indicator standard on all MAXs, including offering free modifications for aircraft already delivered. Note: This story has been updated from the original version published May 5. It includes additional details and clarifications on MCAS's operation and the AOA Disagree alert's intended function.
  7. At least 13 casualties as per CNN.
  8. " Improving pilot unity, building a stronger network of pilot volunteers, and becoming the best advocates they can for their 600-plus pilots were the top priorities for the Air Transat Master Executive Council (MEC) in 2018. "
  9. Perhaps a joint bid with someone like TUI...
  10. AC shares popping a bit today. Up over 2% right now.
  11. I suppose if AC were to buy them, it would satisfy that requirement.
  12. Air Transat shares soar 43% after airline says sale of company is possible Social Sharing Company that owns Air Transat says more than 1 party likely to make bids The Canadian Press · Posted: Apr 30, 2019 10:24 AM ET | Last Updated: 2 minutes ago Transat AT says it is in talks with more than one party for possible sale. (Submitted by Matt Lino) Shares of Transat AT Inc. soared more than 40 per cent Tuesday after the tour and travel company announced preliminary talks regarding the possible sale of the company. On the Toronto Stock Exchange, shares of the parent company of Air Transat, gained more than 43 per cent, or $2.44, at $8.11 in midday trading. Shares reached a high of $8.85, which was still short of its 52-week high. The Montreal-based company said before its annual meeting that it is in talks with more than one party regarding a potential transaction following expressions of interest it received. Transat said it has formed a special committee of independent directors to evaluate the proposals with the assistance of financial and legal advisers. "I want to reiterate that the discussions are at a preliminary stage and no decision has been made on a potential transaction," Transat AT chief executive Jean-Marc Eustache told shareholders at the beginning of the meeting. Turnaround plan The company has embarked on a financial turnaround and plans to build a network of hotels on sun destination beaches in the hope that this will better position it in the face of increased competition from Canadian rivals such as Air Canada Rouge, WestJet Vacations and Sunwing Airlines. Transat did not name the potential bidders, but analyst Benoit Poirier of Desjardins Capital Markets said they could be the same groups that have expressed interest in Thomas Cook. While the stock price has surged, Poirier says it was still well below Transat's "intrinsic value" which he has conservatively pegged at $12 per share based on surplus cash, value of land and earnings. Transat shares were changing hands at $8.13 in the afternoon on Tuesday, up $2.46 from Monday's level. Premier weighs in Quebec Premier François Legault co-founded Air Transat in 1986 and was CEO of the company before entering politics. He told the CBC the potential sale was a "shock for me." "I'm thinking about the employees," he said. "For me it's important to do everything we can to keep the headquarters in Quebec." He said he no longer has shares but because of his personal connection Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon will be handling the file. Air Transat was founded 33 years ago by a group of businessmen, including Eustache and Legault, who left the company in 1997 before making the leap into politics. The main shareholder of the tour operator — which has some 5,000 employees — is Letko, Brosseau and Associates with a stake of 18.14 per cent and the Quebec Federation of Labour's Solidarity Fund with 11.58 per cent. A request for comment by Letko from CBC News was not immediately returned on Tuesday. Flair Airlines, Air Transat join Aeroplan loyalty program Analysis After years of turbulence, ultra-low-cost carriers could finally take flight in Canada Quebec's pension plan, the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, is the fourth largest owner of the company, with 5.84 per cent interest. Transat offers vacation packages, hotel stays and air travel under the Transat and Air Transat brands.
  13. Transat AT Inc announces preliminary discussions concerning a potential sale of the corporation Leave a reply Transat AT, Inc., the parent of Air Transit, has made this announcement: The Corporation announces being in preliminary discussions with more than one party concerning a potential transaction involving the acquisition of the Corporation. These discussions result from expressions of interest received by the Corporation. The Corporation has formed a special committee of independent directors to evaluate the proposals with the assistance of financial and legal advisors, consider, and if deemed advisable, undertake a process for the formal review of strategic alternatives, consider any alternative proposal, and make recommendations to the Board of Directors in the best interests of the Corporation and all its stakeholders. This situation has no impact on the clients or employees of Transat, nor on its operations, which are continuing as usual. The discussions are at a preliminary stage. No decision has been made as to any potential transaction. There can be no assurance that any transaction will take place. The Corporation does not intend to provide further updates or comments with respect to the foregoing except as required by law.
  14. Aviation Week: Max Disrupting NMA Plans MAX Issues Are Disrupting Boeing’s NMA Plans Guy Norris and Sean Broderick Boeing’s push to get the 737 MAX back in service and restore confidence in its cornerstone commercial program appears to be threatening its next major endeavor—the new clean-sheet design tapped to fill a gap between the 737 and 787. Efforts to restore the MAX are in full swing, but the undertaking is draining resources from the new midmarket airplane (NMA), pushing a possible launch further into the future. Until the 737 MAX crisis struck in March, Boeing’s expected plan was to marshal its board of directors’ approval for official authority to offer (ATO) NMA to airlines by midyear 2019 and—assuming enough orders were placed—launch the program in 2020 in time for entry into service in 2025. The date is key for several reasons. Among the most critical: It is ideally timed to capitalize on the expected replacement window for in-service 757s and 767s. Although the company remains committed to developing the new aircraft, Boeing is softening its line on timing for the NMA. A mid-2020s service-entry target is now “a potential opportunity,” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said during a first-quarter 2019 earnings call to analysts April 24. “We still have work to do before we get to an ATO decision,” he added. “We are still working on a pace to try and do that this year as we have previously announced, but I want to be very clear that when it comes to our application of resources, our top priority is the safe return to service of the 737 MAX.” Discussions with potential customers have slowed as well. “It’s understandable that they’ve been distracted,” said Ed Bastian, CEO of possible NMA launch customer Delta Air Lines. “I expect them to be able to reengage in some conversations in the not-too-distant future”. Although Boeing is depending on advances in automation and model-based systems engineering methods to shave almost two years off the traditional development cycle time for new aircraft, any further potential delays to the start of the NMA beyond late 2019 or early 2020 will almost certainly add pressure on an already compressed projected program schedule. In addition, the threat of delaying service entry into the second half of the 2020s will also likely cede potential sales to Airbus, which is expected to launch the A321XLR, aimed at areas of the same market space, sometime later this year. While these threats are significant, they pale in comparison to a prolonged MAX fleet grounding. “Boeing maintained the opportunity for a 2025 entry into service and an authority to offer this year, but we did not pick up on a sense of urgency, given heightened focus on the 737 MAX, and we have a hard time seeing the board moving forward before the MAX is at least headed in the right direction,” JPMorgan analyst Seth Seifman says. Boeing is focused on returning grounded 737 MAXs to service. Credit: Joe Walker Indications from both Boeing and the FAA are that the effort to modify the MAX’s flight-control system—a must before the fleet is cleared to fly again—is entering its final stages. The FAA is targeting May 23 for a meeting of regulators to discuss finalized updates to Boeing’s 737 MAX flight control system, the agency confirms to Aviation Week. While much remains up in the air, the gathering is expected to include regulators from around the world. Invitations are in the process of going out, and most are expected to attend. Among the key constituents likely to participate: representatives from state-of-design veterans Brazil, Canada, and Europe, emerging power China, which was the first to ground the MAX, and both Ethiopia and Indonesia, the two countries leading investigations into two fatal 737-8 accidents that triggered the upgrades and MAX fleet grounding. “The FAA is inviting the directors-general of civil aviation authorities around the world to discuss the agency’s activities toward ensuring the safe return of Boeing 737 MAX to service,” the FAA says. “The meeting is intended to provide participants the FAA’s safety analysis that will inform its decision to return the 737 MAX fleet to service in the U.S. when the decision is made. Also, the FAA will provide safety experts to answer any questions participants have related to their respective decisions to return the fleet to service.” The meeting, which will be limited to regulators, is part of an effort to build global consensus about removing the flight restrictions that were put in place. But the FAA is pressing forward with its own review of Boeing’s proposed fixes, and is prepared to base its decision on whether to approve the MAX’s return to service on its own analysis, not on concurrence from other regulators. This could mean that U.S. MAX operations could be authorized by early June, clearing the way for American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines to put the combined 72-aircraft MAX fleet back to work on domestic routes. Using the meeting to spotlight the MAX changes hinges on the FAA approving Boeing’s updated maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) software and related training. The FAA is preparing to conduct certification test flights of the proposed final software configuration—the follow-on to Boeing’s April 16 engineering demonstration flight. If the FAA signs off on the system’s performance, the next steps would include approving the complete software package, including documentation. The FAA has not received the final package. Southwest Airlines has the largest fleet of 737 MAXs, at 34. Credit: Southwest Airlines Training that accompanies the new configuration also must be approved. An FAA-organized Flight Standardization Board (FSB) has recommended a minimum standard of Level B computer-based training to explain the MCAS—which was added to the MAX’s speed trim system as a flight-stability function to make the new model handle like the 737 Next Generation—to pilots. But some airlines and regulators are expected to push for a minimum amount of simulator training. One possibility being floated: A compromise that mandates simulator training within a certain time frame for all MAX pilots, but not as a return-to-flight precursor. Such a move would allow airlines to work MCAS scenarios into planned simulator training sessions, minimizing training disruption and—more important to airline management—keeping costs down. Public comments on the FSB are due at the end of April, and are expected to be considered during production of a final training-standards document. If approval of the modified MCAS’ functionality, underlying software and related training minima is in place before the May meeting, the FAA is not expected to wait long after the session to remove its MAX ban. The FAA issued its ban March 13—three days after the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, the second 737-8 accident in five months, and after all non-U.S. MAX operations were prohibited by other regulators. The moves left all 370 in-service MAXs grounded until further notice. The MCAS and how pilots responded to the system’s erroneous operation are at the center of each probe. Boeing determined the MCAS, which commands automatic stabilizer trim, needed modifications following the first accident, the Oct. 29, 2018 crash of Lion Air Flight 610. Most airlines with MAXs have removed them from flight schedules until well into the summer, opting for predictable schedules that do not include MAXs over tentative ones that cancel flights as the grounding drags on. Meanwhile, Boeing is working to build a consensus among operators—some of which grounded the aircraft voluntarily. The key constituency being targeted: pilots. “We think a key voice in all of this will be the pilots for our airlines,” Muilenburg said on the earnings call. “We’re working with our airline customers and those pilot voices to ensure that we can build on that going forward. To that end, we hosted multiple sessions around the world; more than 90% of our 50-plus MAX operators to date have had pilots in our simulator sessions with the new software. . . . I can tell you with those series of sessions that we’ve had around the world, the pilot feedback from the simulator sessions has been excellent.” While most airlines and pilot groups continue to express general confidence in Boeing and the MAX, specific reactions to the updates have been more reserved. “United pilots have a seat at the table and will closely monitor these changes to ensure they fully and effectively mitigate all identified risks and meet the needs of our pilots to regain full confidence in the MAX,” the airline’s master executive council told its pilots following an April 12 meeting at the FAA to review the MCAS changes. For Boeing, winning pilots over will mean convincing them that the company has learned from how the MCAS’ introduction was handled. While Boeing insists it did not hide the MCAS—the system was included in high-level technical briefings to operators, for instance—the flight-control law’s existence was not proactively communicated to pilots. Boeing expected it to operate in the background, and only if certain areas of the flight envelope were encountered. The MCAS was not explained in flight manuals, nor was it covered in MAX-specific training. The sequence in each MAX accident exposed a failure mode that triggered the MCAS with one source of inaccurate data, pushing the aircraft’s nose down and forcing the crew to counter with nose-up inputs to keep it airborne. The sequences also suggested that all flight crews were not sufficiently prepared for a failure scenario linked to the system. Boeing did not proactively explain the MCAS nor highlight the existing emergency procedure to manage it—executing the stabilizer runaway checklist—until after the Lion Air accident. “Boeing will, and should, continue to face scrutiny of the ill-designed MCAS and initial nondisclosure of the new flight-control logic,” Southwest Airlines Pilots Association President Jon Weaks said in a message to pilots following the April 12 FAA meeting. Boeing says its software upgrades reduce the likelihood of an erroneous activation, while training and manual updates will shed more light on the MCAS. “Both accidents were a chain of events. One link in that chain of events was the activation of the MCAS system with erroneous angle-of-attack data,” Muilenburg says. “We understand how to address that link. That’s our responsibility. We own that, and that’s what the software update does.” Bigger-picture, Boeing is signaling that it is looking beyond the MAX’s return to service and preparing for the legal ramifications of the accidents and groundings. While admitting that the flight-control law software implicated in the accidents needed a redesign, Muilenburg has become increasingly defensive in response to suggestions that lapses in Boeing’s engineering or certification process for the MAX is to blame. “We understand our airplane . . . how the design was accomplished . . . how the certification was accomplished, and we remain fully confident in the product we put in the field,” Muilenburg says. “But there was no surprise, or gap or unknown here, or something that somehow slipped through the certification process. Quite the opposite.”