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A Pilot On The Future Of The Boeing 737 Max


The aircraft at the center of two fatal crashes will not be allowed to fly for the foreseeable future. The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded since this past March. Boeing thought that would end soon, but according to Federal Aviation Administration Chief Steve Dickson, it won't. Here he is in an appearance before Congress this past week.


STEVE DICKSON: When a 737 MAX is returned to service, it will be because the safety issues have been addressed and pilots have received all the training they need to safely operate the aircraft. I'm not going to sign off on this airplane until I fly it myself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the FAA chief isn't the only person who will have a say in what happens next. We're joined now by American Airlines pilot Peter Gamble, who sits on his pilots' union committee examining the 737 MAX's possible return to service.

Welcome, sir.

PETER GAMBLE: Yes. Thank you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Captain Gamble, let me first ask about what FAA administrator Dickson said this week. Do you know why the FAA still has reservations about letting the 737 MAX fly - what they're worried about?

GAMBLE: Well, I wouldn't necessarily think that there's a worry. I think more of it is that there's been an awful lot of input and changes to software and also collaborating down to what the required training's going to be for the pilot group for return to service. And his agency, I think, is taking a leadership role into making sure that they get a chance to review all of it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm told you recently flew the 737 MAX simulator with Boeing's proposed fix installed, correct?

GAMBLE: That is correct.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how did the plane fly in that simulation?

GAMBLE: So flew a simulator in Miami, and it took a scenario in which there was an angle of attack failure on takeoff.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Which is what actually downed the first two planes, right?

GAMBLE: Yes, it was definitely involved in both incidences. And that in itself creates a lot of distraction. There's loud noises with a stick shaker. There's annunciations of unreliable airspeed, unreliable altitude. And so it takes a time to actually get through that startle process to actually figure out where - what is actually the problem. And in the course of the new change with the software, it actually looks at both angle of attack paints instead of just one, as it did prior to the software changes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So does it feel at this point that so far, things are looking good?

GAMBLE: Yes. I think that the process so far has definitely made the improvements needed - the final product we're all still waiting for.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There were a lot of failures, though, that led up to this. There was a disturbing report last week in The Wall Street Journal that says that the FAA essentially knew enough after the first 737 MAX crash to know that the plane should have been grounded immediately or there would be many more crashes. And yet, it wasn't.

GAMBLE: We were not aware of that report. Administrator Dickson brought that forward - or was actually asked about that in front of Congress. I think his precedence is that by knowing that - that he's making sure that that never happens again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But is there a worry about confidence in the FAA and the plane and the decision-making process? - because there were obviously multiple levels of failure.

GAMBLE: Well, I think that what happened in the past obviously needs to be corrected. And right now, the process has been moving. So even though the deadline hasn't been set and it's not driven by a calendar - it's driven by safety - there has been progress made in getting to a point of where this could be returned to service.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When do you think it'll be flying again? I mean, are we talking weeks, months?

GAMBLE: January is going to be a better perspective of when the FAA has the chance to do the full review. At that point, there'll be a better clarity as far as where the final timeline will be.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: May I ask you when you might feel good about taking yourself or your family up in a 737 MAX again?

GAMBLE: Well, I think because I've been so close to the changes that have occurred, we feel confident that our input is - the aircraft will be safe. Aviation is always built around redundancy, and the major changes that have happened have been - built that redundancy back into the airplane that should have been there before.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's American Airlines pilot Peter Gamble. Thank you very much.

GAMBLE: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.