Boeing Co. will convene a conference call with airlines worldwide that fly its 737 Max aircraft to answer questions about the plane model involved in a fatal Indonesia crash, people familiar with the situation said.
The call Tuesday will allow Boeing to field queries all at once from the group instead of having multiple individual conversations on the same points, said one of the people who asked not to be identified since the call is private. The planemaker will also go over differences between the Max, the most recent version of Boeing’s best-selling airplane, and the model that preceded it known as NG, or next generation.
Airlines will have an opportunity to ask for more details about a little-known anti-stall feature of the Max that has emerged as an area of focus for investigators as they try to figure out what caused the Lion Air Flight 610 to crash on Oct. 29 into the Java Sea near Jakarta. Prior to the accident, Boeing hadn’t widely disclosed that the so-called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System would, in limited circumstances, lower the jet’s nose without any input from pilots.
More recently, Boeing has provided assurances to Max operators and their pilots that they’ve fully disclosed all other crucial changes to the upgraded 737. Southwest Airlines Co., American Airlines Group Inc., Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA and United Continental Holdings Inc. are among carriers flying the Max.
The MCAS safety system is designed to automatically push down the nose of the plane if it is in danger of losing lift on the wings, a condition known as an aerodynamic stall.
If a so-called angle-of-attack sensor shows that the aircraft is pointed too high relative to the oncoming air, a flight computer automatically pushes down the nose. The MCAS system only works while pilots are manually flying the plane.
In the case of the Lion Air episode, erroneous angle-of-attack gauge signals may have essentially tricked the plane into thinking it was in danger and commanded a dive, according to Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee.
The Chicago-based planemaker declined to confirm it’s holding a call. “While we can’t discuss specifics of an ongoing investigation, we have provided two updates for our operators around the world that re-emphasize existing procedures for these situations,” Boeing said.
Boeing’s stock has been battered as investors fret about the company’s liability for a system possibly tripped up by a single point of failure—the sensor reading—along with tarnish to the 737 brand, the company’s largest source of profit. The shares fell 4.5 percent to $320.94 at the close in New York, the largest trading plunge among the 30-member Dow Jones Industrial Average.
“The crash of a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX won’t end the program, and we believe the fix will be largely aimed at training and software changes with manageable costs,” George Ferguson, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, said in a report Monday.