American Airlines Group Inc., after saying for months that its pilots didn't need additional ground-simulator experience on Boeing 737 MAX jets, now plans to include such instruction in training sessions for the aircraft, industry officials said, according to a Dow Jones Newswires report made available to EFE on Tuesday.
The decision, these officials said, means as soon as late summer, American 737 MAX pilots will start encountering some simulator scenarios tied to problems with an automated flight-control system, called MCAS, that has been implicated in two fatal nose-dives of the plane in less than five months.
The enhanced training also will deal with similar emergency situations in which pilots need to intercede to manually correct movement of flight-control surfaces on the jet's tail.
American's choice highlights growing differences between carriers - and in American's case, with federal air-safety regulators - regarding the best way to ensure flight crews will be able to safely operate 737 MAX jets once they resume service.
At this point, the Federal Aviation Administration isn't planning to mandate simulator training targeting potential MCAS misfires. American's voluntary effort to go beyond minimum federal requirements hasn't been reported before.
Southwest Airlines Co. and United Continental Holdings Inc., the other United States carriers with MAX aircraft, don't intend to adopt similar training changes, the officials said. Some overseas carriers, however, have signaled they may opt for enhanced simulator training.
In the immediate wake of a Lion Air jet crash in Indonesia in October, American said it continued "to believe the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft is safe and that our pilots are well-trained and well-equipped to operate it."
American's pilots were critical of Boeing for not providing enough information initially about the MCAS system but determined that they had learned enough about how MCAS worked to continue flying the plane without additional simulator training.
But on Sunday, a spokesman for American Airlines said the carrier is "looking at the potential for additional training opportunities" in coordination with the FAA and representatives of the pilot union.
A Southwest spokeswoman said the airline's current training covers operating in conditions present during "an MCAS misfire." She added, "We briefed our pilots on MCAS post-Lion Air and emphasized the training for operating in unreliable airspeed conditions."
On Monday, United said, "Our training is consistently refreshed and updated, and we will make any updates to our training necessary should the FAA decide more is required as part of their ongoing investigation."
Within weeks of the Lion Air crash, American already was working behind the scenes on possible training changes.
Without any prodding from the FAA, the carrier's safety and training experts began considering possible additional simulator training, according to internal FAA documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
According to one email at the time from a senior FAA inspector, the carrier was developing new simulator scenarios for the MCAS system malfunctions and potential consequences.
The email added that FAA and American officials determined "it would be better to wait for further guidance" from the plane maker and agency certification experts before proceeding to develop full-blown simulator scenarios.
The carrier, according to one industry official familiar with the details, didn't follow through with the proposal at the time because managers decided there was too much uncertainty about the cause of the Lion Air crash.
But now, after a second fatal 737 MAX crash - in Ethiopia in March - in which MCAS was implicated, American is working in earnest to implement extra simulator training for MCAS-related events, this official said.
By Andy Pasztor