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By Robert Wall, Ben Otto and Andy Pasztor
Safety regulators and airlines are stepping up efforts to prevent a recurrence of the fatal Lion Air jetliner crash, even as accident investigators continue to examine pilot actions, plane maintenance and aircraft-design issues.
More than a month after the new Boeing Co. 737 MAX 8 jet plunged into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board, some carriers are adding to training and emergency procedures to cope with serious flight-control issues similar to those that occurred on several trips on the same Lion Air plane within four days of the Oct. 29 crash.
The actions are focused on a new stall-prevention system Boeing developed for the MAX. A preliminary accident report said the crew of Lion Air Flight 610 was battling unreliable speed information and a cascade of other warnings, prompted by inaccurate sensor data. The faulty data triggered the stall-prevention system, called MCAS for Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, which repeatedly pushed down the plane's nose during the 11 minutes between take off and the crash
Indonesia's Lion Air is adding training for MAX pilots that mimics some of the problems faced on Flight 610, a person familiar with the moves said Friday. The training could amount to about 30 minutes to 45 minutes of a four-hour simulator session in recurrent training, the person said.
Lion Air and pilots at other airlines that fly MAX 8 models -- including American Airlines Group Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. -- have criticized Boeing for failing to fully inform them about the operation and potential hazards of the MCAS stall-prevention system.
India's civil-aviation authority this week told the country's carriers operating the Boeing jet to train pilots in a simulator to handle a Lion Air crash scenario. Many of the country's rapidly expanding airlines are MAX customers. Indian authorities also instructed that cockpit crews be provided detailed information on the MCAS stall prevention system.
Boeing has said the 737 MAX 8 is safe and that it didn't intentionally withhold relevant information from aviators or airlines. Current training programs, it has said, include emergency steps to disable the system.
The Allied Pilots Association, which represents about 15,000 aviators for American Airlines, is calling for more formal training, including simulator time, in light of new information since the Lion Air crash about the MCAS system.
U.S. carriers don't have 737 MAX simulators, but Southwest plans to receive one starting next year.
Captain Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the pilot union, said that even though American's pilots received the required training to fly the MAX safely, "we need that simulator and we need it as quick as possible."
American already has added information about MCAS to recurring training for pilots, an airline spokesman said.
Investigators are expected to take months to formally determine what sequence of events caused the crash. Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration alerted airlines about technical details of the MCAS stall-prevention system and how to disable it when airspeed data is wrong or unreliable.
Boeing developed the MCAS to give the MAX extra protection against a possible stall. But the Chicago-based plane maker largely omitted reference to the system in the airliner's operational manual, partly because Boeing believed pilots didn't need to know details because they likely would never see the system in action.
Boeing is working on a software fix for the plane that is expected to be mandated by U.S. regulators in the coming weeks, according to industry and U.S. government officials familiar with the process.
In India, authorities also instructed airlines to take extra precautions should a flight run into issues with the MCAS. Once technicians have tried to fix any problem with it, Indian carriers now must perform a technical checkout flight -- without any passengers -- to ensure the repair worked.
The Lion Air plane that crashed had problems related to faulty airspeed indications on four flights in days preceding the accident, investigators have said. Technicians tried to troubleshoot the system, including replacing a sensor suspected of providing bad information about the position of the plane's nose.
The plane wasn't taken out of service, however, even though pilots on the immediately preceding flight experienced repeated automatic nose-down commands like those that occurred on Flight 610. That pre-crash crew also opted to complete the roughly 45-minute trip with the captain's stall-warning system going off throughout the flight, according to investigators. That decision has been defended by Lion Air but questioned by various safety experts.
The overall investigation, which includes U.S. crash experts, is looking into what information Boeing provided to MAX operators and U.S. regulators about the MCAS before the crash, and if training requirements for the jet need to be adjusted. The Indonesian-led probe also is delving into Lion Air training and more broadly, the airline's safety culture and cockpit decision-making.
Meanwhile, Lion Air said Friday it had arranged for a salvage operator to help recover the Flight 610 cockpit-voice recorder. The recorder would give investigators more insight into what the pilot and co-pilot experienced during the flight and, potentially, shed light on the reasons behind their responses to the nose-down commands.
--Rajesh Roy and Andrew Tangel contributed to this article.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 07, 2018 16:44 ET (21:44 GMT)
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