Boeing now saying pilots need simulator training for 737 Max

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A United Airlines Boeing 737 Max airplane takes off in the rain at Renton Municipal Airport in Renton, Wash. in Dec. 2019. (Photo: AP)

Boeing said Tuesday it is recommending that pilots receive training in a flight simulator before the grounded 737 Max returns to flying, a reversal of the company’s long-held position that computer-based training alone was adequate.

The recommendation is based on changes to the plane, test results and a commitment to the safe return of the Max, Boeing said.

The 737 Max has been grounded worldwide since last March after two crashes killed 346 people.

Boeing’s interim CEO, Greg Smith, said in a statement that Boeing decided to recommend simulator training because of the importance to Boeing of gaining public and airline confidence in the Max.

The final decision on the nature of training will be up to regulators including the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA said it will consider Boeing’s recommendation but also rely on upcoming tests using pilots from US and foreign airlines.

Those tests are designed to help regulators determine flight training and emergency procedures, said FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford.

“The FAA is following a thorough process, not a set timeline, to ensure that any design modifications to the 737 MAX are integrated with appropriate training and procedures,” Lunsford said.

Boeing had long held that pilots who can fly older 737s only needed a computer course — roughly an hour-long course on a tablet — to fly the Max. That helped airlines avoid timely and costly training in simulators.

Boeing even offered to pay Southwest Airlines a rebate of $1 million per plane if the airline had to train its nearly 10,000 pilots in simulators before they could fly the Max.

Last year, an FAA technical advisory board sided with Boeing and recommended that only computer-based training was needed. However, families of victims of the two crashes lobbied for simulator training, arguing that pilots need to experience in a simulator how the Max differs from previous versions of the 737 before they fly passengers.

It is not clear whether a requirement for simulator training would further delay the return of the Max, which is costing Boeing billions and forcing airlines to cancel thousands of flights. About 800 Max jets have been built, and they were expected to become a bigger part of the fleets at many airlines.

In afternoon trading, shares of Chicago-based Boeing Co. were up $4.24, or 1.3%, to $337.98. They had gained 3.1% before Boeing announced its reversal on pilot-training requirements.