Boeing Jets May Be Grounded Through April Pending Software Fix

Boeing Co.’s 737 Max family of passenger jets could remain grounded in the U.S. at least through April, House lawmakers said Thursday after they were briefed by aviation regulators.

Flights won’t resume until the planes receive updated flight control software that Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration are racing to finalize, Pete DeFazio, the Oregon Democrat who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Missouri Republican Sam Graves, that panel’s ranking member, said after a briefing by FAA officials on Thursday.

That process could last for six weeks or more depending on additional training needed for pilots, said Representative Rick Larsen, the Democratic chairman of the panel’s aviation subcommittee and whose district includes Boeing’s campus in Everett, Washington.

“I know the software fix is going out in a couple of weeks and going fleet-wide is going to take at least through April,” Larsen told reporters after he and other members of the committee were briefed by FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell and others.

Elwell’s agency on Wednesday reversed course and grounded Boeing’s 737 Max family of narrow-body jets. He said the decision was based on new evidence that showed the plane that crashed Sunday in Ethiopia behaved similarly to another 737 Max that crashed five months ago in Indonesia, operated by Lion Air.

Boeing is preparing fixes to anti-stall software that baffled pilots of the downed Lion Air jet by pitching the plane’s nose down dozens of times before it crashed in the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia in October. The system was activated by a reading from a single faulty sensor, without any pilot input.

Boeing fell 0.8 percent to $374.24 at 2:07 p.m. in New York, heading for an eighth decline in the past nine days. A close at the current level would drag the stock’s weekly decline to the most since 2010.

Elwell said Wednesday the FAA was hopeful the software update would be ready “within a couple of months” and expressed optimism it would mitigate risks experienced by pilots. He also noted that investigators have not yet drawn a clear link between the system that malfunctioned prior to the Lion Air crash and the Ethiopia accident.

The lawmaker comments came after President Donald Trump said earlier on Thursday that the U.S. had to take a “cautionary route” after the plane was involved in two fatal crashes, and that he hoped the grounding would be temporary.

“I hope it is going to be for a short period of time,” Trump told reporters gathered in the White House Thursday. “They have to find out what it is.”

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