The FAA on Monday posted its proposed air worthiness directive that is designed to return the Boeing 737 MAX safely to the skies. The 36-page document is now open for public comment for 45 days, as expected. The “notice of proposed rulemaking” doesn’t contain a lot of surprises, but investors will still want to know what’s in it.
The airworthiness directive, or AD, would require
(ticker: BA) to install new flight control software. MCAS, short for maneuvering characteristics augmentation systems, is the flight control software implicated in two deadly MAX crashes responsible for 346 deaths and the world-wide grounding of the plane.
Much of what Boeing has worked on has been related to MCAS fixes. The proposed changes are intended to make sure MCAS never activates incorrectly again.
In addition to erroneous activation, the new flight control system will limit the amount of change MCAS can make in flight.
The FAA will require Boeing to update the flight manual. This is designed to ensure pilots are aware of any sensor data or systems they might have to deal with in an emergency. MCAS and its operations weren’t adequately disclosed in the flight manual in its original iteration.
There are other changes that will go into the manual, beyond more MCAS disclosures. Many changes will update checklists and procedures to run through when there is an out of ordinary condition observed.
New MAX Display System
A new display and software package will generate an angle of attack disagree alert. Incorrect angle of attack data, input into the flight control systems by faulty sensors, activated MCAS, catalyzing events that ended in tragedy. The FAA wants to ensure there is no possibility of confusion about sensor data going forward.
New angle of attack sensor tests will also be required by MAX operators.
The FAA will require changes to the horizontal stabilizer trim wire routing installations. The horizontal stabilizer is, essentially, the rear wing that can move up or down to adjust a plane’s angle. This change doesn’t affect procedures related to manually adjusting the tail wing position—something discussed throughout the plane’s grounding. Instead, it brings the wiring up to new standards.
Pilot training requirements aren’t part of the proposed directive. Those are coming later. The FAA is evaluating new training in concert with other global aviation regulators.
Is all of this good news or bad news for Boeing stock?
The proposed changes, frankly, were expected. The process has taken a long time, but progress is being made. Progress is good for the stock. The MAX, however, is the second most important issue facing the company recently.
Coronavirus is number one. Boeing stock is still down roughly 50% year to date because of Covid-19 and its impact on commercial air travel. All aerospace stocks have been hit harder that most stocks in the
Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Getting the MAX back into service, of course, is important, but most investors always expected the plane to return to service eventually. After the MAX is back, investors will focus on a vaccine against coronavirus, which could return people to planes.
Boeing stock rose 2.7% Monday and traded roughly flat after the FAA report was released. Shares are up about 0.2% in premarket trading Tuesday.
Write to Al Root at email@example.com