By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration met for three hours on Friday with representatives from the three major U.S. airlines that fly now grounded Boeing (NYSE:) 737 MAX airplanes and their pilots’ unions to discuss two fatal crashes and the path forward.
More than 300 Boeing 737 MAX jets have been grounded worldwide after 346 people died in two crashes, one in Indonesia in October and one in Ethiopia last month.
Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told participants “he wanted to know what operators and pilots of the 737 MAX think as the agency evaluates what needs to be done before the FAA makes a decision to return the aircraft to service,” the agency said in a statement.
At the meeting with American Airlines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines (NYSE:) Co, the FAA discussed the preliminary reports from both crashes and Boeing’s proposals for a software upgrade and new pilot training, said Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association which represents American’s pilots.
American Airlines said in a statement it was “confident in the direction the FAA is heading. We’ll continue to work collaboratively with the FAA, Boeing and the Allied Pilots Association in this process.”
Tajer said pilots were pleased with the “very good briefing” and said pilots need to be satisfied in the training and software upgrade. He said the FAA sought pilots’ input.
“We have to unground the confidence in this airplane,” Tajer told reporters outside FAA headquarters.
American and United have canceled flights through early June, while Southwest said Thursday it would remove its 34 737 MAX jets from its flying schedule through Aug. 5, leading to around 160 daily flight cancellations during the revised summer schedule.
Tajer said everyone is focused on getting the plane back in service safely. “We take off out watches and put the calendars in the drawer,” he said.
Boeing said it has reprogrammed software on the 737 MAX to prevent erroneous data from triggering an anti-stall system that is under mounting scrutiny following the two deadly nose-down crashes. On April 1, Boeing said it delayed submitting the proposed revisions to the FAA for approval.
The FAA said the meeting covered a review of the publicly available preliminary findings of the investigations into the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents; an overview of anticipated software enhancements to an anti-stall system and, an overview of pilot training. Elwell said the meeting participants’ “operational perspective is critical input as the agency welcomes scrutiny on how it can do better.”
The agency is also convening a joint review with aviation regulators from China, Europe, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia, Ethiopia and other countries.
Federal prosecutors, the Transportation Department inspector general’s office and a blue-ribbon panel are also reviewing the plane’s certification.
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