Boeing unveils 737 Max fixes, says planes are safer

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Boeing previewed its software fix, cockpit alerts and additional pilot training for its 737 Max planes on Wednesday, saying the changes improve the safety of the aircraft which has been involved in two deadly crashes since October.

“We’re working with customers and regulators around the world to restore faith in our industry and also to reaffirm our commitment to safety and to earning the trust for the flying public,” Mike Sinnett, Boeing vice president, said in previewing the changes to pilots, reporters and regulators at its facilities in Renton, Washington.

The company’s shares jumped after releasing the fixes at 2 p.m. ET, rising by more than 1 percent in afternoon trading.

Many of the details behind Boeing’s plan to fix the Max have come out over the last two weeks.

Among the notable changes to the MAX flight controls:

  • The plane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS automated flight control system, will now receive data from both angle of attack sensors, instead of just one.
  • If those disagree by more than 5.5 degrees, the MCAS system will be disabled and will not push the nose of the plane lower.
  • Boeing will be adding an indicator to the flight control display so pilots are aware when the angle of attack sensors disagree.
  • There will also be enhanced training required for all 737 pilots so they are more fully aware of how the MCAS system works and how to disable it if they encounter an issue.

“We’re working with pilots and industry officials,” said Sinnett. “We have two hundred of them today in our Renton facility and we’ll be spending time with the today to explain the updates we’re making to the 737 max, to get their input and to earn their trust.”

By the end of this week, Boeing plans to send the software updates and plan for enhanced pilot training to the Federal Aviation Administration for certification approval. The FAA’s approval process has raised questions in the industry and is the subject of a Senate hearing Wednesday afternoon. Industry officials believe it could take the FAA up to two weeks to certify the changes.

After the FAA approves the fix, Boeing said it will send the software update to customers. It takes a few days install and more time for training and testing, the company said.

Still, the FAA and other regulators around the world need to sign off on the safety of the 737 Max before they approve the planes to once again fly and carry passengers. Some analysts believe that will take a minimum of six weeks and up to 12 weeks before the grounded jets are airborne again.

Boeing previously charged customers to add a feature in Boeing 737 Max cockpit displays that shows the plane’s angle of attack as well as a light when angle of attack indicators disagree but said Wednesday it would make those displays complimentary. Customers who have already received 737 Max planes can retrofit the planes with that feature for free.

“Not all customers wish to include this feature on their primary flight display, so it is offered as a customer-selected option,” Boeing said in a statement.

Southwest Airlines, which has 34 of the Boeing 737 Max planes in its fleet, more than any other U.S. airline, said it was “encouraged” by Boeing’s proposal on Wednesday.

“Boeing’s software update appears to add yet another layer of safety to the operation of the MAX aircraft,” said Bob Waltz, Southwest’s chief pilot. “We look forward to the FAA’s final guidance and will fully comply with any modifications and additional training requirements to strengthen the reliability of the 737 Max.”

CNBC’s Leslie Josephs contributed to this report.

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