Thursday, 02 July, 2020

Boeing can begin test flights of the 737 Max, FAA says

MAX airplanes parked at the Boeing Factory in Renton Washington US MAX airplanes parked at the Boeing Factory in Renton Washington US
Deanna Wagner | 29 June, 2020, 20:57

U.S. regulators are getting close to undertaking a test flight of Boeing's grounded 737 MAX and could schedule the key step for as soon as next week, two sources said Friday.

Software fixes to address the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, re-work were completed in May, following 360 hours of testing over more than 200 flights, Boeing reported earlier this spring.

The 737 MAX was grounded after two crashes together killed all 346 people onboard.

"For Boeing, it could close a chapter that's gone on longer than they wanted and kills a lot of speculation in the marketplace that the plane will never fly again", said George Ferguson, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. The FAA in a letter to Congress Sunday said it does not yet have a date for when the grounding will be lifted.

These tests are expected to take several days and will cover a variety of flight manoeuvres and emergency procedures to enable the FAA to assess whether the changes Boeing made to the aircraft are up to standard.

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This marks a massive milestone in Boeing's attempts to recertify the Max, which has been grounded since March 2019 after the second of two fatal crashes involving the aircraft. The most recent business hit comes with a large decline in air travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The crashes cost the American passenger jet manufacturer billions of dollars and led to the resignation of its former chief executive Dennis Muilenburg, who repeatedly gave overly optimistic predictions of when the plane could return to service. It couldn't afford to keep building the Max without being able to deliver the planes and complete sales of the jet.

It will be a key trial for Boeing's ill-fated 737 MAX series which, if successful, could pave the way for hundreds of grounded planes to be back in use by airlines all over the world.

The email also said that the "FAA has not made a decision on return to service" and there will be multiple additional steps after the test-flight process, according to Reuters. In any event, according to Reuters' sources, the plane will not be recertified as flight ready until at least September, particularly given that a number of problems aside from the faulty anti-stall software have been found with the plane.

"The FAA is continuing to adhere to a data-driven, methodical analysis, review and validation of the modified flight-control systems and pilot training required to safely return the 737 Max to commercial service", said the regulator in a June 17 statement.