Boeing to Update Planes' Software After Two Deadly Crashes

The company says it has been working on an update to the system implicated in a deadly 2018 crash.

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Mar 12 2019, 3:37pm

Boeing 737 Max plane. Image: Flickr/Liam Allport

Boeing plans to deploy a software update for its 737 Max plane “designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer,” the company said in a statement two days after an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crashed and killed all 157 passengers.

The company noted on Tuesday that a flight control software enhancement for the aircraft model has been in the works for several months, following last year’s Lion Air Flight 610 crash of the same model that killed 189 people flying out of Indonesia.

The 737 Max has been grounded by airlines across the world this week while investigators seek to identify the cause of the latest crash. The most recent to do so was Norwegian Airlines on Tuesday at the recommendations of European aviation authorities.

“Boeing has been working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on development, planning and certification of the software enhancement, and it will be deployed across the 737 MAX fleet in the coming weeks,” the company said.

Boeing said its software enhancement will include updates to the 737 Max’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was implemented to help pilots bring the aircraft’s nose down while in the air, according to The Air Current. The MACS was implicated in the Lion Air crash, as pilots reportedly struggled to control it.

“The plane rotated two times in the air, and it had some smoke coming from the back then, it hit the ground and exploded,” farmer Tamrat Abera who witnessed the Ethiopian Airlines crash told the Associated Press.

Boeing emphasized in Tuesday’s that pilots can always disable the system in the event of erroneous data affecting the sensor.

The cause of Sunday’s crash is still being investigated and authorities have retrieved both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, according to Ethiopia Airlines.

Both crashes involved brand new planes and occurred mere minutes after takeoff, the New York Times reported.

Boeing itself has not grounded the 737 Max, which the company hails as the “fastest-selling” model in its history.

The company called the 737 Max “a safe airplane that was designed, built and supported by our skilled employees who approach their work with the utmost integrity.” The planned update will also include updates to pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training.

Some experts believe it’s too early to definitively link the two crashes, but others say that two deadly 737 Max crashes within a span of months should be considered an anomaly.

“It's highly suspicious,” Mary Schiavo, former Inspector General of the US Transportation Department, told CNN. “Here we have a brand-new aircraft that's gone down twice in a year. That rings alarm bells in the aviation industry, because that just doesn't happen.”