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US may keep Boeing 737 Max jets grounded for weeks

Boeing 737 Max jets could be grounded into April, lawmakers said Thursday.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Boeing 737 Max jets could be grounded into April, lawmakers said Thursday.

WASHINGTON — Boeing Co.’s 737 Max family of passenger jets could remain grounded in the United States 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 Federal Aviation Administration are racing to finalize, said Representatives Pete DeFazio, the Oregon Democrat who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Missouri Republican Sam Graves, that panel’s ranking member.

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

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“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 said after he and other committee members were briefed by the FAA’s acting administrator, Daniel Elwell, and others.

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The agency on Wednesday reversed course and grounded all Boeing 737 Max narrow-body jets. Elwell 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 Lion Air jet by pitching the plane’s nose down dozens of times before it crashed in the Java Sea in October. The system was activated by a reading from a single faulty sensor, without any pilot input.

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

President Trump had said earlier on Thursday that the United States had to take a “cautionary route” after the plane was involved in two fatal crashes.

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