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Airlines scour the world for scarce 737 MAX simulators

Airlines scour the world for scarce 737 MAX simulators

MONTREAL, Jan 24: Airlines are scrambling to book time in 737 MAX training facilities as far afield as Fiji, Iceland and Panama, operators said, after Boeing Co recommended pilots be trained in one of the few simulators replicating the latest model, reports Reuters. That means thousands of pilots from more than 54 airlines need to squeeze into about three dozen 737 MAX simulators around the world before they can fly the plane. “Boeing is recommending that all 737 MAX pilots undergo training in a 737 MAX simulator prior to flying the aircraft in commercial service,” the company told Reuters on Tuesday evening, the first confirmation of its new policy. On Jan. 7, the company had recommended using a simulator but did not specify what type. The 737 MAX has been grounded since March 2019 after two fatal crashes and cannot return to service until regulators approve software changes and training plans. The estimated 34 737 MAX simulators in service, produced separately by CAE Inc and Textron Inc’s simulator and training division TRU, are less than a quarter of the number of older 737 NG simulators certified by US and European regulators. “I think that what a shortage of simulators will mean is the fleet of MAXes will start flying more slowly than what the airlines would like,” said Gudmundur Orn Gunnarsson, managing director of TRU Flight Training Iceland, a joint venture between Icelandair and Textron’s simulator and training division. “In the beginning it was said that simulator training would not be needed,” he said. “This changes it totally.” Gunnarsson said TRU Flight Training Iceland had more inquiries than usual from potential airline customers about the use of its 737 MAX simulator since Boeing’s Jan. 7 announcement. Boeing said on Tuesday it did not expect to win approval for returning the 737 MAX to service until mid-year, longer than previous estimates, in part because regulators are working on new pilot training requirements. Many airlines did not order 737 MAX simulators, assuming they could rely on the older 737 NG simulators because the types were so similar. Simulators can cost C$10 million ($7.64 million) to C$20 million each, with the 737 MAX at the upper end, CAE said. Hourly rates for simulator training can cost $500 to $1,000, it said. High demand for 737 MAX simulators has led the Montreal-company and its rival TRU to produce simulators for customers they have yet to line up. “Customers are making increasing inquiries from all over the globe,” a TRU spokeswoman said. South Korean low-cost carrier Eastar Jet, which does not have a 737 MAX simulator, said it had already contacted Boeing, other airlines and training centers. “With limited MAX simulators available, we expect carriers will likely face challenges to book slots for MAX simulators,” said an Eastar official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity. Fiji Airways spent more than $10 million to buy a 737 MAX simulator to help save on the costs and lost productivity of sending pilots to Singapore, Australia and the United States for training, said its chief operating officer, Paul Doherty. The carrier uses its simulator 35 per cent to 42 per cent of the available hours to train its 70 737 pilots and had plans to sell the additional time. Now it is getting calls from airlines thousands of miles away. “We have got interest ... particularly from Asia,” Doherty said. “We are expecting some from the US Our focus is to really develop our own pilots and to provide the best for Fiji Airways, but we are also very happy to help other airlines that need some time. That could be a real choke point, I think, for a lot of airlines.” Panamanian carrier Copa Holdings SA, the only Latin American airline with a 737 MAX simulator, said it was seeing a lot of demand, although it was not authorized to disclose the interested carriers. Copa said it its top priority was to train its own 245 pilots. US airlines have more simulators than many of their counterparts abroad, but they also have more 737 pilots to train, which could be done in stages. Before Boeing’s recommendations for simulator training, Southwest Airlines Co, the world’s largest 737 operator, had estimated it would take about 30 days to train all of its roughly 10,000 737 pilots on the MAX. On Tuesday, the Dallas-based carrier said it would be premature to make cost and timing estimates before regulators approved a training package. The airline said it has three simulators in various stages of FAA certification and expects to receive an additional three in late 2020. Meanwhile, Boeing Co said on Tuesday it does not expect to win approval for the return of the 737 MAX to service until mid-year due to further potential developments in the certification process and regulatory scrutiny on its flight control system. Boeing said it has informed airlines and suppliers of the new estimate, which is longer than previous forecasts and also takes into account new anticipated pilot training requirements. Reuters reported last week that regulators had been pushing back the time needed to approve the plane, which was most recently expected to happen in February or March, a year after the jetliner was grounded worldwide. Based on regulatory approval in the first quarter, the three US airlines that operate the 737 MAX - American Airlines Group Inc, United Airlines Holdings Inc and Southwest Airlines Co - were scheduling MAX flights in early June. They will now likely have to extend the timeline again. They have said it could take at least 30 days to resume flights following US Federal Aviation Administration approval because of the time needed to ready the planes and train pilots. The Chicago-based planemaker has been updating the 737 MAX flight control system and software to address issues believed to have played a role in two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people within five months. Boeing shares closed 3.3 per cent lower at $313.37 after falling as much as 5.7 per cent during the session. “Returning the MAX safely to service is our number one priority, and we are confident that will happen,” Boeing said in a statement. “We acknowledge and regret the continued difficulties that the grounding of the 737 MAX has presented to our customers, our regulators, our suppliers, and the flying public.” Boeing said it will provide additional information with quarterly results next week. The FAA said in a statement on Tuesday that it is following a “thorough, deliberate process to verify that all proposed modifications to the Boeing 737 MAX meet the highest certification standards.” The agency is working with other safety regulators to review Boeing’s work and reiterated it has set no time frame for when the review will be completed. Reuters reported on Monday that Boeing is in talks with banks about borrowing $10 billion or more amid rising costs after the two crashes involving the 737 MAX. Boeing in recent days temporarily halted production of the 737 MAX in Washington state, a move it announced in December as it became clear that regulatory approval was taking longer than it had forecast. Boeing has estimated the costs of the 737 MAX grounding at more than $9 billion to date, and is expected to disclose significant additional costs during its fourth-quarter earnings release on Jan. 29. The company faces rising costs from halting production of the plane this month, compensating airlines for lost flights and assisting its supply chain. Following Boeing’s announcement, Canada’s WestJet Airlines said it would remove the 737 MAX from its schedule through June 24. Air Canada declined comment.

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