Flight tests Boeing 737 MAX certification are due to start today.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing Co (BA.N) pilots and test crew members are scheduled to start a three-day certification test campaign for the 737 MAX on Monday, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The evaluation is a crucial moment in Boeing's worst-ever corporate crisis, long since aggravated by the novel coronavirus pandemic that has cut air travel and demand for jets.
In March 2019, the landing of the fast-selling 737 MAX after two crashes in five months killed 346 people in Ethiopia and Indonesia triggered lawsuits, Congress and the Department of Justice investigations, and cut off a key source of Boeing 's cash.
On Sunday, the FAA reported to U.S. lawmakers that an agency board has concluded a study of Boeing's safety system evaluation for the 737 MAX "clearing the way to begin flight certification testing. Flights with FAA test pilots could start as early as tomorrow, assessing Boeing 's proposed modifications to the 737 MAX automated flight control system.
The team will board a 737 MAX 7 fitted with testing equipment at Boeing Field near Seattle, one of the people said after a preflight briefing over several hours.
Systematically planned mid-air scenarios including steep-banking turns will be performed by the crew, leading to more intense maneuvers on a route mainly over Washington State. The plan could include touch-and-go landings at Moses Lake's eastern Washington airport over at least three days, and a path across the Pacific Ocean coastline, adjusting the flight plan and timing as needed for weather and other factors, one of the people said.
Pilots would also intentionally cause reprogrammed stall-prevention software known as MCAS failed in both collisions, as well as aerodynamic stall conditions, said men.
Boeing declined to comment on it.
The FAA email said the testing would take several days, and "would involve a wide variety of flight maneuvers and emergency procedures to allow the agency to determine whether the changes meet FAA certification requirements."
It stated the "FAA did not make a return-to-service decision" and has a range of additional measures before it can clear the plane to do so.
The project campaign rigors go beyond previous Boeing test flights, completed on a single day in a matter of hours, Industry sources claim.
The tests are designed to ensure the new safeguards Boeing applied to MCAS are robust enough to avoid the scenario pilots faced before both incidents, when they were unable to overcome MCAS and grappled with column vibrations and other warnings from "stick shaker," one of the people said.
The training of Boeing involved hundreds of hours in a 737 MAX flight simulator at its Longacres plant in Renton, Washington, and hundreds of hours in the air on the same 737 MAX 7 research aircraft without FAA officials on board.
At least one of those practice flights included the same testing parameters that were planned on Monday, said one guy.
FAA authorities in Washington and the Seattle area will analyze reams of digital and paperwork flight test data to assess the airworthiness of the jet following the flights.
Likely weeks later, after the data has been processed and training protocols have been signed, FAA administrator Steve Dickson, a former F-15 fighter pilot who said the 737 MAX will not be accepted until he has personally signed it off, will board the same aircraft to make his evaluations, two of the people said.
If all goes well then the FAA will have to approve new pilot training protocols, among other tests, and would possibly not allow the ungrounding of the plane until September, the people said.
That implies the jet is on a path before the year-end to continue U.S. service, although the process has been plagued by delays for more than a year.
"Based on how many issues have been found, if the flight tests are 'one and finished' I will be shocked," said another person with knowledge of the flight plans.
Regulators in Europe and Canada will also perform their own reviews when working closely with the FAA, and have established issues that go beyond the FAA. After the 737 MAX is approved to return to operation they could need additional adjustments.
“This is new territory,” said one industry source with knowledge of prior Boeing tests. “There’s a lot more play between regulators, and certainly a lot more pressure and public attention.”