The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is considering new regulations that will improve cockpit automation systems to help mitigate pilot errors that have caused fatal airline crashes, according to The Wall Street Journal. The fixes will be applied to 500 or so Boeing (NYSE:BA) 737 jets and will ensure pilots have the necessary safeguards in place in the event airspeed falls too low, especially during landing approaches.
Regulators and aviation authorities would likely follow in the FAA’s footsteps. Such actions could affect about 700 more 737 units. Dangerously low airspeed has played a main role in several accidents and crashes over the years, including the 2009 crash of a Turkish Airlines 737 that killed nine people.
Boeing originally suggested making the changes, and the FAA is seeking to make them mandatory and official, the Journal said. There is apparently great debate within the industry over what the best approach to this problem should be and what the most effective way of warning pilots in case the automated throttle systems aren’t fully engaged or unexpectedly shut down are.
The Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 crash into a sea wall while trying to land at San Francisco International Airport last year was the result of low airspeed, which the pilots did not notice on their approach. Similarly, a Colgan Air turboprop accident in New York in 2009 — which killed forty-nine — was also attributed to low airspeeds.
After the Turkish Airlines incident, which was spurred by a faulty altimeter that triggered a decline in airspeed prematurely, Boeing began designing more audible warnings for pilots, such as a computer-generated voice on new 737s. Boeing also issued non-binding service bulletins, which recommended that the large global fleet of previously built 737s be retrofitted with features designed to ensure that auto-throttles maintained safe flight, the Journal said.
The FAA is proposing a three-year compliance deadline once the new directives are made official. Additionally, a Boeing spokesman acknowledged over the weekend that the manufacturer has “received limited reports” of altimeter discrepancies since the Turkish Airlines accident in Amsterdam, though no accidents or fatalities were reported as a result.