By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Aviation Administration acting chief Dan Elwell told lawmakers on Wednesday he expects Boeing Co to submit a software fix for the grounded 737 MAX involved in two fatal crashes for approval soon, and said he was concerned by the planemaker’s lengthy delay in disclosing a software anomaly.
At a congressional hearing, the chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee told the FAA it must “get it right” in deciding when to allow the Boeing 737 MAX to fly again.
“The world is watching and the FAA and Boeing must get it right,” Representative Peter DeFazio said.
The Boeing 737 MAX plane was grounded worldwide in mid-March after two crashes in October and March killed 346 people.
Elwell said the agency expects to get the software upgrade and training update from Boeing in the “next week or so.” He said the FAA will only allow the plane to resume flights when it is “absolutely safe to do so… It’s important we get this right,” Elwell said.
Elwell said Boeing should not have waited 13 months to tell the FAA that it inadvertently made an alarm alerting pilots to a mismatch of flight data optional on the 737 MAX, instead of standard as on earlier 737s. Reuters first reported the 13-month delay.
Elwell said he was “concerned” by the delay. “We’re going to look into that,” Elwell said. “It shouldn’t take a year.”
The FAA is planning a May 23 meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, with air regulators from around the world to update them on the reviews. U.S. airlines have cancelled flights as a result of the 737 MAX into August.
The U.S. planemaker has been trying for weeks to dispel suggestions that it made airlines pay for safety features after it emerged that an alert designed to show discrepancies in Angle of Attack readings from two sensors was optional on the 737 MAX.
Erroneous data from a sensor responsible for measuring the angle at which the wing slices through the air – known as the Angle of Attack – is suspected of triggering a flawed piece of software that pushed the plane downward in two recent crashes.
Boeing said last week it only discovered once deliveries of the 737 MAX had begun in 2017 that the so-called AOA Disagree alert was optional instead of standard as it had intended, but added that was not critical safety data.
Boeing said a Safety Review Board, convened after a fatal Lion Air crash in Indonesia last October, corroborated its prior conclusion that the alert was not necessary for the safe operation of commercial aircraft and could safely be tackled in a future system update.
Federal prosecutors, the Transportation Department’s inspector general and lawmakers are investigating the FAA’s certification of the 737 MAX 8 aircraft.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Rigby and Nick Zieminski)