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In a surprising move, Boeing is now recommending pilots undergo training in a full-flight simulator before returning to the skies in the 737 Max.
The manufacturer, which previously said that only computer-based training (CBT) would be needed, reversed its position on Jan. 7. The Chicago-based company issued a statement saying its newest recommendation for mandatory simulator training “takes into account our unstinting commitment to the safe return of service as well as changes to the airplane and test results.”
Continued Boeing interim CEO Greg Smith: “Safety is Boeing’s top priority. Public, customer and stakeholder confidence in the 737 Max is critically important to us and with that focus Boeing has decided to recommend Max simulator training combined with computer-based training for all pilots prior to returning the Max safely to service.”
According to The Seattle Times, Boeing hosted pilots from four major airlines in Seattle last month. They were evaluated over four days of human factors testing. The results from this testing reportedly point to a need for all pilots to log simulator training for the 737 Max.
When it developed the Max family, Boeing’s goal was to avoid the need for airlines to incur the expense of simulator training. It said the Max family would be so similar to its predecessor that minimal differences training on an iPad would be all that was needed to make the transition.
The final call on sim training – and how much will be required – will be made by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Last April, an FAA board released a draft report saying simulator training would not be required for pilots returning to the 737 Max. At the same time, Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau told the media that CBT would not be enough to satisfy Transport Canada.
“It’s not going to be a question of pulling out an iPad and spending an hour on it,” he said in an interview with Reuters. “Simulators are the very best way, from a training point of view, to go over exactly what could happen in a real way and to react properly to it.”
In any case, the requirement for simulator training will add another layer of complexity to the Max’s return to service. There are reportedly only 34 Level D full-flight Max simulators in the world and thousands of pilots who will need time on them.
It’s unclear whether simulators for legacy 737 models can be updated with software to replicate the necessary Max training.
In December, Skies reported that Air Canada had trained 400 pilots to fly its 24 Max 8 aircraft. Although they have been grounded, they have continued to maintain currency with simulator training every six months. Air Canada received the world’s first airline-operated 737 Max full-flight simulator in 2017.
As of early December 2019, there were more than 350 new Max aircraft parked in various places awaiting delivery, including 12 for Air Canada, two for WestJet, and two for Sunwing.