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Carriers are in rush to secure 737 MAX simulators as bottleneck expected after Boeing's additional training recommendation

Seattle, Washington - US airline operators want to secure 737 MAX flight simulators for after Boeing's recommendation for simulator training for 737 MAX pilots before starting to fly with the aircraft again.

There are only 34 737 MAX simulators available worldwide for the training of pilots. It is expected that the lack of 737 MAX simulators to cause further delays for the aircraft's return to service since the training of thousands of pilots requires more time.

Boeing had previously said that computer-based training would be sufficient before pilots begin to fly with the 737 MAX jets again.

Among the three major US airlines with 737 MAX jets in their fleet, Southwest Airlines said the company had three simulators that it ordered in 2018 with minimal work remaining until the US Federal Aviation Administration certified them for use. It has three more sets to be delivered at the end of this year.

United Airlines said it already had one working simulator, with three more set for delivery by March. American Airlines said it continues to work with the FAA and Boeing throughout the recertification process”, but a company spokesman offered no details on simulator training for its pilots.

Part of Boeing’s original sales pitch to airlines was that 737 MAXs would not require simulator training. It was a factor in Boeing’s decision to update the 737 rather than design a wholly new aircraft, which led to the use of heavier engines and then a flight-control system to counteract their effect. That system was later implicated in the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia which killed 346 people.

The FAA and other regulators are yet to approve Boeing’s proposed changes to that flight-control system and to pilot training, which will be required before the MAX is certified as safe and the grounding is lifted.

A person familiar with the matter said Boeing decided to recommend simulator training after pilots participating in the recertification process failed to follow proper cockpit procedures and checklists.

Simulators cost between $6m and $8m each, and then another $400 to $500 an hour to operate because of labor and maintenance costs.

CAE, a Canadian company that supplies 80 percent of the world market for flight simulators, has been anticipating a rise in customer demand for MAX simulators since November, said Hélène Gagnon, the company’s vice-president for public affairs.

Sales and deliveries of MAX simulators are doing well, chief executive Marc Parent said during a November 13 earnings call. There had been five orders and nine deliveries in the first half of the company’s fiscal year - almost 10 percent of the 48 orders in the product’s history. Chief financial officer Sonya Branco said a similar number of orders and deliveries were expected in the second half of the fiscal year.

Also read: Boeing suggests simulator training for 737 MAX pilots