By Eric M. Johnson and Clement Uwiringiyimana
SEATTLE/KIGALI (Reuters) – Boeing Co will provide airlines that have bought the 737 MAX with free software upgrades, the U.S. manufacturer said on Monday, as Ethiopian Airlines told Reuters it expected a preliminary crash report this week or next.
Any fixes to the MAX software, the focus of investigations in two deadly crashes that have prompted worldwide groundings of the aircraft, must still get approval from governments around the world.
The causes of separate Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes are still unknown, though Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Officer Tewolde Gebremariam said on Monday he expected the release of a preliminary report into the crash that killed 189 people “maybe this week or next week”.
Ethiopian authorities are leading the investigation.
Meanwhile, Boeing has begun briefing airlines on software and training updates for the MAX, with more than 200 global airline pilots, technical experts and regulators due in Renton, Washington where the plane is built this week.
Tewolde told Reuters the leading African airline may or may not attend the briefing, but earlier said in a statement that Africa’s biggest carrier will work with Boeing and other airlines to make air travel safer.
“Despite the tragedy, Boeing and Ethiopian Airlines will continue to be linked well into the future,” Tewolde said in a statement. “Ethiopian Airlines believes in Boeing. They have been a partner of ours for many years.”
Qatar Airways, one of the largest Middle East carriers, also threw its support behind Boeing on Monday after two crashes since last October raised safety concerns about the 737 MAX.
The airline will however delay the April delivery of another MAX jet until the cause of the crash is known, said Qatar Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker.
“I am sure that the aircraft will get back into the skies soon and that Boeing will get to the bottom of what happened and if there is something technical wrong that they will find a fix for it,” he said.
The 737 MAX is Boeing’s best-selling plane, with orders worth more than $500 billion (£379 billion) at list prices.
Boeing’s shares were up 1.5 percent midday on hopes that a fix is nearing completion, but have lost about 14 percent since the March 10 crash.
In another blow to Boeing, France announced on Monday that Airbus had agreed to sell 300 aircraft to China Aviation Supplies Holding Company, including 290 A320 planes and 10 A350, in a deal worth about is 30 billion euros (£25.8 billion).
The session in Renton, Washington is part of an effort to reach all current, and many future, 737 MAX operators and their home regulators to discuss software and training updates to the jet, Boeing said in a statement.
A Boeing spokeswoman said the meeting, which follows a separate session on Saturday with airlines including the three U.S. carriers that operate the MAX, formed part of a series of in-person information sessions.
“We have been scheduling, and will continue to arrange, additional meetings to communicate with all current, and many future, MAX customers and operators,” she said.
Ethiopian’s Tewolde said that many questions on the 737 MAX “remain without answers.”
Lion Air Managing Director Daniel Putut said his airline would send two people on Wednesday, a pilot and an engineer.
The crash of an Indonesian Lion Air flight last October killed 189 people and first brought the safety of the 737 MAX into focus.
Ethiopian and French investigators have pointed to “clear similarities” between the two crashes, putting pressure on Boeing and U.S. regulators to come up with an adequate fix.
No direct link has been proven between the crashes but attention has focused on whether pilots had the correct information about the “angle of attack” at which the wing slices through the air.
Garuda Indonesia was invited to the briefing, Chief Executive Ari Askhara told Reuters on Monday. Last week, Indonesia’s national carrier said it planned to cancel its order for 49 737 MAX jets, citing a loss of passenger trust.
“We were informed on Friday, but because it is short notice we can’t send a pilot,” Askhara said, adding that the airline had requested a webinar with Boeing, only to be rejected.
Garuda, which has only one 737 MAX, had been reconsidering its order before the Ethiopian crash.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and Clement Uwiringiyimana in Kigali; additional reporting by Jason Neely in Addis Ababa, Jamie Freed in Singapore, Cindy Silviana in Jakarta, Heekyong Yang in Seoul, Alexander Cornwell in Dubai, Sylvia Westall in Muscat, Tracy Rucinski in Chicago and David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Jamie Freed by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Michael Perry, Clarence Fernandez and Lisa Shumaker)