FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Officer Tewolde Gebremariam. Picture: REUTERS/TIKSA NEGERI
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Officer Tewolde Gebremariam. Picture: REUTERS/TIKSA NEGERI

Addis Ababa/Singapore — Boeing will brief more than 200 global airline pilots, technical leaders and regulators this week on software and training updates for its 737 Max aircraft, as Ethiopian Airlines expressed confidence in the aircraft maker, despite a recent crash.

The carrier will work with Boeing and other airlines to make air travel safer, CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said, after regulators  grounded the worldwide fleet of the aircraft earlier in March following a crash that killed 157 people.

"Despite the tragedy, Boeing and Ethiopian Airlines will continue to be linked well into the future," he said in a statement on Monday. "Ethiopian Airlines believes in Boeing. They have been a partner of ours for many years."

However, many questions on the 737 MAX "remain without answers", Tewolde added, and a spokesperson for the carrier said it had no "immediate plans" to attend the Boeing session, without giving further details.

Wednesday's meeting is a sign that Boeing is nearing completion on a planned software patch required to return the grounded fleet to commercial service, though it will still need approval from regulators.

The session in Washington, US is part of an effort to reach all current, and many future, 737 MAX operators and their home regulators to discuss software and training updates to the jet, Boeing said in a statement.

The 737 Max is Boeing's best-selling aeroplane, with orders worth more than $500bn at list prices.

Garuda Indonesia was invited to the briefing, CEO Ari Askhara said on Monday. Last week, Indonesia's national carrier said it planned to cancel its order for 49 737 Max jets, citing a loss of passenger trust.

"We were informed on Friday, but because it is short notice we can't send a pilot," Askhara said, adding that the airline had requested a webinar with Boeing, only to be rejected.

A Boeing spokesperson said the meeting formed part of a series of in-person information sessions.

"We have been scheduling, and will continue to arrange, additional meetings to communicate with all current, and many future, Max customers and operators," she said.

Garuda, which has only one 737 Max, had been reconsidering its order before the Ethiopian crash, as had fellow Indonesian carrier Lion Air, which suffered a crash in October that killed all 189 aboard.

Boeing had informed the airline of the meeting but it might not attend, said Lion Air MD Daniel Putut, who declined further comment.

Singapore Airlines aid its offshoot, SilkAir, which operates the 737 Max, had received an invitation to the meeting and would send representatives.

Representatives of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore would also attend, a spokesperson for the regulator said.

Korean Air Lines, which had been due to receive its first 737 Max in April, before the grounding, said it planned to send pilots to Washington. South Korean low-cost carrier Eastar Jet would send two pilots, a spokesperson said.

On Saturday, teams from the three US airlines that own 737 Max jets joined a session in Washington reviewing a planned software upgrade.

Flydubai representatives attended that session and some would also attend this week's meeting, a spokesperson for the airline said.

A US official briefed on the matter on Saturday said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had not yet signed off on the software upgrade and training but aimed to review and approve them by April.

It remained unclear whether the software upgrade, called "design changes" by the FAA, would resolve concerns stemming from the investigation into the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash.

Tewolde said that until there were more answers about the 737 Max, the planes should remain grounded, adding, "Putting one more life at risk is too much."

The US official said planned changes included 15 minutes of training to help pilots deactivate the anti-stall system known as MCAS in the event of faulty sensor data or other issues. It also included some self-guided instruction, the official added.

Reuters