Boeing is in talks with 737 MAX customers to fund simulator training once the aircraft is allowed to fly again by global regulators.
Boeing has told India’s SpiceJet it will cover the cost of putting pilots through sessions on the machines, which sell for as much as $20 million, while flydubai and Ryanair are in talks on the matter, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The carriers are among the top 737 MAX buyers, with almost 600 orders in total.
Boeing told Bloomberg negotiations are being conducted on an airline-by-airline basis. The talks include the provision of services such as training to offset costs from the 737 MAX’s idling.
Boeing has repeatedly missed targets for re-certifying the MAX jets, grounded since March after two fatal crashes. The company has set aside US$8.2 billion to cover compensation to carriers forced to reschedule thousands of flights and shelve growth plans.
The figure was increased by US$2.6 billion after the Chicago-based planemaker last month accepted that 737 MAX pilots would benefit from simulator training, and the US Federal Aviation Administration is expected to make it mandatory for the jet’s return.
The Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines crew including 4,200 who fly 737s, said funding for MAX simulators would be welcome and that it can make the difference between an in-flight situation being recoverable or not.
The APA said, “Muscle memory doesn’t happen by reading manuals or experiencing creative computer-based training module. Obviously Boeing has come to the conclusion it’s not satisfactory for this. We agree.”
Planning to line up flight simulators for Boeing 737 MAX operators began last year, before Boeing officially reversed course to support additional training for pilots, Dave Calhoun, the company’s new chief executive, told reporters last month.
“We are working closely with customers to support their training needs as we work towards safely returning the 737 MAX to service,” Boeing said.
SpiceJet chairman Ajay Singh said Boeing is paying for a simulator to be set up in India.
Ryanair is also in discussions with Boeing on funding for simulator sessions. Europe’s biggest discount airline already has two machines at London Stansted but may need one at its Dublin base.
Flydubai said it is waiting on the FAA and its own regulatory authority to issue directives before commenting on simulator and training requirements. Ryanair said its in-house machines mean it will be in a good position to train its pilots once the 737 MAX jets are certified as fit to fly.
There are currently 36 MAX simulators worldwide, including eight at Boeing training centres in Miami, London, Shanghai, Singapore and Istanbul. Two more should be operative by mid-2020, while customers around the globe are also purchasing and installing additional machines.
While that compares with 80 simulators for the earlier 737 NG, it should be sufficient for every 737 MAX operator to train and retrain pilots, Boeing said.
Boeing, which now expects the 737 MAX to return mid-year, revised its view in favour of the model’s pilots undergoing simulator training after inviting aviators to test redesigned flight-control software.
Some airlines with a machine may be asked to make it available to others, though the devices will be a hot commodity at carriers such as Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines, which need to put thousands of pilots through their paces.
American said it will need full use of its one MAX simulator, given the pilots it needs to train. The company expects to be reimbursed by Boeing for all financial impacts of the grounding, including simulator sessions.
American reached a confidential settlement for MAX costs in 2019, when the plane’s absence shaved $540 million from pre-tax income.
Southwest, the largest 737 MAX operator, said it is preparing for several scenarios on pilot training as it waits on the FAA decision but declined to comment on any talks with Boeing regarding compensation.
The carrier will have nine simulators by April and aims to have all of them operational by 1 July.
CAE, the biggest simulator maker, said in November it had begun to make machines for the 737 without orders in hand, believing more instruction would be needed.
Training is likely to include the 737 MAX’s manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system, known as MCAS, and blamed for bringing down the crashed jets after it intervened in response to faulty sensor readings.
Additional reporting by airlinerwatch.com.