US airlines are struggling to secure flight simulators for the 737 Max after Boeing said extra training will be needed for pilots before the aircraft returns to service.
There are only 34 simulators worldwide for the jet, creating a potential bottleneck as airlines vie to schedule training time for thousands of pilots and causing further delays to its return, even after aviation regulators lift the grounding.
Boeing said for months that pilots would only need to train on a computer in order to qualify to fly the Max, which has been grounded since March following two fatal crashes, only to reverse course earlier this week.
Among the three major US airlines with Max aircraft in their fleet, Southwest Airlines said the company had three simulators that it ordered in 2018 with “minimal” work remaining until the US Federal Aviation Administration certified them for use. It has three more set to be delivered at the end of this year.
Although they were not previously required, “we ordered the simulators so the pilots would have the option” of training on the Max model, a Southwest spokeswoman said.
the cost of a Boeing 737 Max simulator
United Airlines said it already had one working simulator, with three more set for delivery by March. American Airlines said it “continues to work with the FAA and Boeing throughout the recertification process”, but a company spokesman offered no details on simulator training for its pilots.
Part of Boeing’s original sales pitch to airlines was that the Max would not require simulator training. It was a factor in Boeing’s decision to update the 737 rather than design a wholly new aircraft, which led to the use of heavier engines and then a flight-control system to counteract their effect. That system was later implicated in the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia which killed 346 people.
The FAA and other regulators are yet to approve Boeing’s proposed changes to that flight-control system and to pilot training, which will be required before the Max is certified as safe and the grounding is lifted.
A Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 — a different model to the Max — crashed in Iran on Wednesday killing all 176 people onboard and adding to the problems faced by Boeing which has been criticised for its response to the earlier Max crashes.
Boeing wants to rebuild confidence in the Max among customers and flyers and that likely influenced the company’s decision to recommend simulator training, said John Cox, an American crash investigator and retired airline pilot.
A person familiar with the matter said Boeing decided to recommend simulator training after pilots participating in the recertification process failed to follow proper cockpit procedures and checklists.
Simulators cost between $6m and $8m each, and then another $400 to $500 an hour to operate because of labour and maintenance costs.
CAE, a Canadian company that supplies 80 per cent of the world market for flight simulators, has been anticipating a rise in customer demand for Max simulators since November, said Hélène Gagnon, the company’s vice-president for public affairs.
Sales and deliveries of Max simulators are doing well, chief executive Marc Parent said during a November 13 earnings call. There had been five orders and nine deliveries in the first half of the company’s fiscal year — almost 10 per cent of the 48 orders in the product’s history. Chief financial officer Sonya Branco said a similar number of orders and deliveries were expected in the second half of the fiscal year.