Boeing 737 MAX certification flight tests set for Monday, sources say

Investigators spread blame in air crash, fault Boeing and FAA
Boeing 737 Max.
Boeing 737 Max.

SEATTLE– Boeing Co. and U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilots and test crew are set to begin test flights of the Boeing 737 MAX on Monday in a three-day certification test campaign, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Boeing has taken large hits as a company over the last year and a half. The company grounded its fleet of the 737 MAX airplanes due to two major crashes in just five months in 2019, that killed a combined 346 people. The most recent business hit comes with a large decline in air travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, the FAA confirmed to U.S. lawmakers that an agency board has completed a review of the  737 MAX planes, clearing Boeing to begin flying them for certification testing.

For the certification testing, after a pre-flight briefing that could take several hours, crews will be outfitted with test equipment and start training at Boeing Field in Seattle, a source told Reuters.

Included in the testing will be methodically scripted mid-air scenarios, such as steep-banking turns and progressing into more extreme maneuvers in a flight route primarily over Washington state, sources told Reuters.

Additional tests may include other routine aircraft techniques such as ‘touch-and-go’ landings at the Moses Lake airport, and flights over the Pacific Ocean coastline. Flights will be adjusted based on flight plans, weather and additional factors, sources said.

During the training, pilots will also trigger reprogrammed, stall-prevention software, known as MCAS. This software was believed to be a faulty device in both crashes in 2019, causing aerodynamic stall conditions, sources said.

Boeing declined to comment about the test flights. An email from the FAA stated testing “will include a wide array of flight maneuvers and emergency procedures to enable the agency to assess whether the changes meet FAA certification standards,” according to Reuters.

Last week, U.S. safety officials required all 737 MAX planes to be inspected for any manufacturing defects on engine coverings that they say could lead to loss of power during flights.

Inspections and repairs, if needed, will be required before the grounded planes are allowed to fly again, according to a notice posted by the FAA.

It is not clear whether the engine-covering defect will further push back Boeing’s goal of getting the planes back in the sky this year. The company needs clearance from the FAA before the planes can fly again.

The FAA order affects 128 MAX jets registered to U.S. airlines American, Southwest and United.