Boeing Company (The)

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FAA panel finds Boeing 737 MAX software upgrade 'operationally suitable'

FILE PHOTO: A Boeing 737 MAX 8 takes off during a flight test in Renton, Washington, January 29, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Redmond/File Photo

(Reuters) - A Federal Aviation Administration review board said on Tuesday a software update to the grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft was found to be "operationally suitable," suggesting the lengthy regulatory process to get the planes back in the air was well underway.

More than 300 Boeing 737 MAX jets have been grounded worldwide after nearly 350 people died in two crashes, one in Indonesia in October and another in Ethiopia last month.

Boeing Co has been reprogramming software on the 737 MAX to prevent erroneous data from triggering an anti-stall system known as MCAS that is under scrutiny following the two disastrous nose-down crashes.

Boeing shares rose 2 percent after the news.

Boeing is under pressure to upgrade the software and convince global regulators that the plane is safe to fly again, a process expected to take at least 90 days.

Although shares bounced higher on the FAA news, investors were advised by the proxy firm Institutional Shareholder Services to press the company to vote for a shareholder proposal to split the role of chairman and chief executive.

ISS said uncertainty about the long-term impact on Boeing related to safety problems with the 737 MAX was serious enough to merit having an independent board chair.

"Shareholders would benefit from the most robust form of independent oversight to ensure that the company's management is able to regain the confidence of regulators, customers and other key stakeholders, ISS said in a report ahead of Boeing's annual shareholders meeting April 29.

Boeing did not immediately comment. The FAA still must approve the software package and training once Boeing formally submits them to the agency, an FAA spokesman said.

Boeing said earlier this month it planned to submit a software upgrade and additional training for the anti-stall system known as Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) on the planes to the FAA in the coming weeks for approval.

The draft report from the FAA Flight Standardization Board (FSB) said additional training was needed for MCAS, but not required to be done in a simulator. The board said ground training "must address system description, functionality, associated failure conditions, and flight crew alerting."

The FAA is also convening a joint review with aviation regulators from China, Europe, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia, Ethiopia and other countries. American and Southwest have canceled flights through early August because of the 737 MAX grounding.

The FSB board consists of experts, pilots and engineers. The FSB that reviewed the 737 MAX before it was certified in 2017 had unanimously agreed that additional "flight training was not needed" because there were no significant differences in handling compared to the earlier 737, acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell said at a Senate hearing last month.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Svea Herbst-Bayliss in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Tom Brown)


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