Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX pilots will undergo 'additional training' after suspension on plane lifted
SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines (SIA) said on Monday (Sep 6) its Boeing 737 MAX pilots will undergo "additional training" after a suspension on operating that specific model in Singapore was lifted.
"In the coming weeks, they will undergo additional training to familiarise themselves with the new enhancements from Boeing, the flight control software, as well as any situations that they might face during the flight," a SIA spokesperson said.
Every pilot must complete a comprehensive training programme, which includes computer-based learning as well as simulator training, the spokesperson added.
SIA said it has also "proactively completed" technical modifications and software upgrades to its 737 MAX aircraft, and conducted operational readiness flights in Alice Springs, Australia, in accordance with relevant US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airworthiness standards introduced in November 2020.
The airline has progressively flown its six 737 MAX planes back to Singapore from Alice Springs where they were parked after the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) grounded the model in March 2019.
When asked when SIA might resume its 737 MAX flights and on which routes, the spokesperson said further details would be announced at a later date.
Singapore's aviation authority announced on Monday that it has lifted its suspension on 737 MAX planes flying in and out of Singapore after evaluating design changes to the aircraft and its safety record over the past nine months. The planes have "no notable safety issues".
CAAS had grounded the 737 MAX after two fatal accidents involving the model. In March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed, killing 157 people. Another accident in October 2018 involving a Lion Air plane killed 189 people.
US authorities attributed the two crashes to a key safety system on the 737 MAX called the MCAS, which was designed to counter the plane's tendency to pitch up and lose altitude, but instead forced it into nosedives that pilots could not pull out of.
Boeing had also misled US authorities about the significance of the MCAS system and failed to mention it in pilot training and flight deck manuals, so most pilots did not even know it existed before the first crash, the investigation found.
The FAA has required new pilot training and software upgrades to MCAS, including requiring the system to get information from two sensors instead of one before being activated.
In November 2020, the FAA lifted its 20-month-old grounding order on the 737 MAX. The European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have also lifted their own suspensions on the model.
"SIA welcomes the decision by the CAAS to lift the restrictions on Boeing 737 MAX operations," the SIA spokesperson said.
"SIA will continue to work closely with CAAS and the relevant regulators in the coming weeks, to fulfil all of the requirements for the return of service of our 737-8 (737 MAX 8) aircraft."
Aviation analyst Shukor Yusof at Endau Analytics said the 737 MAX is currently the most closely observed and followed aircraft type in the world and is "probably the safest" given all the attention it has received.
"At its crux would be the MCAS system that was under scrutiny and recently, questions over some wiring issues. These have all been rectified as the MAX is closely watched by the US FAA," he said.
"The CAAS would also have been fully satisfied with SIA's preparedness to relaunch this aircraft again."
Nevertheless, Mr Shukor said the economic boost arising from the resumption of 737 MAX flights in and out of Singapore remains "quite insignificant" given the current climate where flights remain scant.
"But it would give SIA plenty of opportunities to run it and get used to the additional safety features," he added.
Mr Brendan Sobie of Sobie Aviation said the resumption of 737 MAX flights is "significant" as other countries like India and Malaysia have already lifted their own suspensions, and SIA would now be able to fly the plane to these countries.
"Without these other countries lifting their grounding there was not much need for Singapore to lift its grounding as Singapore doesn't have a domestic market," he said.
Regarding any lingering safety concerns that passengers might have about the 737 MAX, Mr Shukor said most passengers care more about the price of their air ticket and not what aircraft type they fly on.
"But many people take comfort when they are flying onboard SIA as it has a strong reputation for safety, reliability and attention to detail," he said.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said SIA has progressively flown its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft back from Australia following the CAAS' announcement that the suspension was lifted. This is incorrect. This article has also been updated to correct the comment from Brendan Sobie about countries which have lifted the ban on the 737 MAX. He referred to India not Indonesia. We apologise for the errors.