Uh Oh: Boeing 737 MAX Pilots Will Need Simulator Training

Filed Under: Misc.

Boeing is having seemingly endless issues with getting the Boeing 737 MAX re-certified, as we’re coming up on the one year anniversary of the plane having been grounded.

Well, it looks like Boeing and airlines are about to face yet another issue with getting this plane back into service.

737 MAX Pilots Will Need Simulator Training

Historically one of the things that has made the 737 MAX attractive for airlines has been that no separate simulator training was required for pilots flying the plane, assuming they were already rated on the 737.

The 737 as such has been around since the 1960s, and thanks to the similarities, training in previous 737 simulators was considered sufficient. Obviously we’ve learned there are some subtle (but potentially fatal) differences between previous generations of the 737 and the 737 MAX.

That’s obviously the problem, because it’s why nearly 350 people are dead — Boeing didn’t properly brief airlines and pilots of the critical differences between the former versions of the 737 and the 737 MAX.

Well, the New York Times is reporting that Boeing has “recommended” to the FAA that 737 MAX pilots have to train in 737 MAX simulators before being able to fly the plane, rather than just in standard 737 simulators (as was previously the case).

According to sources familiar with the matter, Boeing has recently informed the FAA administrator, Stephen Dickson, of this recommendation, and it will be up to the FAA to decide if this is required or not. I would assume the FAA will require this, given that Boeing is erring on the side of caution here (and it’s going to be costly for them).

Boeing 737 MAX 8

Why Is Boeing Making This Recommendation?

Boeing’s decision to recommend simulator training comes down an analysis they did in December 2019, where they had pilots from several airlines (including American, Southwest, and United) fly their simulators, as part of the 737 MAX re-certification process.

Allegedly they found that pilots were relying on their flying skills, rather than the correct procedures, to handle emergencies. That suggests there hasn’t been enough simulator training specific to the 737 MAX.

As of now there are only 34 737 MAX simulators in the world, so this will create quite a hurdle for airlines to have trained pilots back on the 737 MAX.

Air Canada 737 MAX simulator

What This Means For Airlines

Airlines are going to be really unhappy about this, at least in comparison to what they were first promised by Boeing when they ordered the 737 MAX.

For example, allegedly when Boeing and Southwest were negotiating the 737 MAX order, Boeing stated that they would give Southwest a discount of $1 million per plane if simulator training were required, given the cost of these simulators (a single full motion simulator can cost over $5 million). Given that Southwest has 280 737 MAXs on order, this could get costly.

What makes this so costly?

  • Airlines will have to get their hands on 737 MAX simulators, whether that comes in the form of outright buying them, or sending their pilots to existing 737 MAX simulators
  • Pilots will have to spend their time in simulators rather than flying; pilots are still being paid, and aren’t generating revenue when they’re not flying passengers
  • It will potentially delay the timeline with which 737 MAXs will be flying, even once they’re re-certified, since simulator sessions take time

Air Canada 737 MAX simulator

Bottom Line

As time goes on it sure feels like the 737 MAX is further from being in service, rather than closer.

This seems like a sensible recommendation, though — the plane has critical differences compared to previous versions of the 737s, and pilots should be trained for those scenarios.

I imagine this will result in even more payouts from Boeing to airlines, since they were initially promised this wasn’t necessary.

Comments
  1. So will THIS be the final nail-in-the-coffin for the 737Max?

    You’d think at least some customers won’t want to fly it ever again (myself included), airlines don’t seem to want these planes…maybe Amazon Air (or some other freight supplier) will buy them all at a major discount from Boeing?

  2. I will never, ever fly in a 737 max. Thankfully my airline, Delta, made the right move and didn’t order this trash plane.

  3. Get ready for such a feature:
    Number 1 airlines pay millions to buy and train their pilots on the simulators.
    2 finding more problems with the 737MAX and completely taking it out of service.
    3 the airlines will ask Boeing to pay them for the simulators and for the time the pilots have trained on it.
    4 Boeing filing bankrupt.

  4. Honestly this move and the research that led to it says more about pilots (and I say this as a pilot) than it does about the airframe. The accidents (while initially triggered due to vulnerabilities in the aircraft system design) exposed significant overassumptions in the capabilities of flight crews to detect and correct abnormalities. These same assumptions, long accepted by the FAA, EASA and other agencies are common across all airframe manufacturers. These accidents continue to build on a trend in recent accidents (as seen with AF447, OZ214, and others before) indicating that pilots cannot always be counted on to detect and correct system failures, even when those failures only require what are considered basic flying skills to correct.

  5. @Sean

    Airlines were being cheap and Boeing was doing their bidding. They don’t really have any other options than sticking with their 737Max orders, since Airbus doesn’t have enough capacity to handle the number of MAX orders in a short amount of time.

    So airlines will swallow the pill, they’ll learn their lesson, and they’ll diversify their fleets in the future. But for now, they’re all going to put the screws to Boeing and demand heavy discounts and credits for the next decade. Probably a free simulator or three.

    It’ll be quite easy for airlines to squeeze Boeing, between their QC issues with the 787 (batteries, engines, etc), and their ego-over-safety issues with the MAX. The only thing that will put a final nail-in-the-coffin is if the MAX gets re-certified for flying and has another fatal accident within a year.

  6. @flying100

    Boeing is too big to fail. Remember the banks?

    In America, if you get big enough and swallow up your competition, you just get a bailout and continue making the same failed decisions because – well why not?

  7. Get ready for such a future:
    Number 1 airlines pay millions to buy and train their pilots on the simulators.
    2 finding more problems with the 737MAX and completely taking it out of service.
    3 the airlines will ask Boeing to pay them for the simulators and for the time the pilots have trained on it.
    4 Boeing filing bankrupt.

  8. Can’t Boeing offer discounted upgraded from current 737NG simulator to 737MAX simulators? because is mostly the software part that is different

  9. I agree with PeterK, as a former USAF pilot ( fast movers) you have to put the issue before the aircrew in a simulator so that they can experience it first hand and learn to deal with it, each of us processes little differently and similar training is a great way for a pilot to see and more importantly “feel” what happens when abnormalities come about. When you’re in training it’s a great way for us to get the feel for certain things and allows us to “experiment”.

    Finally if those two in the front are ready to go count me in. I have a number of friends that fly for SWA and AS none has said to me informally they won’t fly the bird. The press needs to back off a bit. Having said that BA needs to be held accountable.

  10. My sympathies go out to next victims of the 737 max and their families. Victims of a lazy, cheap and inept Boeing. Hopefully their deaths won’t be in vain and the plane will be grounded permanently.

  11. For what it’s worth, I would fly all day every day on 737 Max flights. As always, humans have very little understanding of actual risk and probabilities. And also as always, you would be many orders of magnitude more at risk driving to the airport than flying on a 737 Max. Your additional risk flying on a Max vs an Airbus A320 is effectively a rounding error.

  12. As far as I know, one of the main reasons Boeing made the 737 Max was so that their customers didn’t have to spend a hell of a lot money retraining thousands of pilots. So Boeing have got some serious talks to make. I imagine those talks will go down like a lead balloon.

  13. Imagine the anxiety!!! I take 30 flights a year and had the opportunity to fly on AC 737 MAX from Toronto to Calgary a couple times. Knowing what I know now there is not a chance I would get on another 737 MAX regardless of pilot training…However, I’m good after it flies 1 million flights with no issues…well maybe not

  14. I hope Southwest execs learn from this. If you want to be chained to one airplane type, either keep buying that EXACT model, or budget training. Regulatory loophole letting 2019 airplanes be considered “same as” a 1967 model is just insane, and should come to an end.

  15. If full size motion simulators didn’t exist, how would the pilot groups train their team members on something like this? A laptop and a joystick? How close to expertly trained would that get most pilots?

  16. I feel a way around it would be to do the training in a NG simulator with some kind of 737max software from Boeing. After all, as far as I’m aware the cockpits are mostly identical (bar the flight displays) and the only major difference between the two types is the flight dynamics.

    I think it’s also clear how much scrutiny the 737max has been under, hence the constant finding of new ‘problems’, which leads me wonder, how many ‘problems’ found with max can be on other aircraft that have been certified but not under the same level of scrutiny the max is now?

    One things for sure, I can bet, once re-certified, that the max will be the safest plane in the sky- especially if they’re going to lengths of retraining flight crews.

  17. @Raj they used to fly planes around with no passengers and an experienced training captain, it was fairly dangerous and very expensive.

  18. Has Boeing considered that revolutionary product used in the Automobile industry?…Duct Tape

    @AlanD I bet Duct Tape is used to separate a few wires…

  19. “Allegedly they found that pilots were relying on their flying skills, rather than the correct procedures, to handle emergencies.” – it also suggests that maybe those pilots should not have been certified to fly in the first place if they can’t follow the correct procedures.

  20. I wish I could say that Boeing should be facing punishment from its shareholders, but because of financial engineering and all of the dividends/shareholder buybacks Boeing has been able to give its shareholders (partially as a result of the Trump tax cuts) their shareholders haven’t been inclined to respond in nearly the way they should have. The fact that it took that long to get rid of the CEO/others responsible, is a testament to that.

    Sure, the value of their shares were falling, but they were still getting hefty dividends and getting their shares bought back at well above the plummeting value.

  21. This conspiracy by the Chinese government has to stop. There is nothing wrong with these aircraft. Look at the recent TK A330 incident: those are the true flying coffins.

  22. John – If China is so powerful that they’ve been able to get Boeing, the FAA and US government to play along with their conspiracy, you have MUCH bigger things to worry about…

  23. This isn’t uh-oh. This is a necessity. This should have been in place before the original delivery.

  24. “This conspiracy by the Chinese government has to stop. There is nothing wrong with these aircraft. Look at the recent TK A330 incident: those are the true flying coffins.”

    @John:

    That is either a really good example of why it’s a bad idea to try and make a joke in a comment forum or just in really bad taste! I hope it’s the former…

  25. @WROSE Air Canada’s 737 Max’s were ordered with the optional safety options that Boeing made available. As such, any Air Canada 737 Max’s would not have had the issues that caused the fatal crashes (which were mainly caused by incorrectly performed maintenance, and Pilot error).

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