Boeing cleared for 737 Max test flights

Boeing has received the green light from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to begin recertification flight tests for the 737 Max. These flights could begin as early as June 29.

Here, Boeing's MAX 7, MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft are shown in production at Boeing's Renton, Wash., factory. Boeing Photo
Problems with the 737 Max program have cost Boeing roughly US$18.7 billion so far. Boeing Photo
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According to Reuters, in a letter sent to U.S. Congress, the FAA confirmed that the agency had reviewed Boeing’s updated system safety assessment for the 737 Max, clearing the manufacturer to begin flights with FAA test pilots.

“Flights with FAA test pilots could begin as early as tomorrow, evaluating Boeing’s proposed changes to the automated flight control system on the 737 Max,” the letter obtained by Reuters read.

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.

“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. “The FAA’s return-to-service decision will rest solely on the agency’s analysis of the data to determine whether Boeing’s proposed software updates and pilot training address the factors that led to the grounding of the aircraft.”

Sources said that FAA pilots will intentionally trigger the stall-prevention software known as MCAS — which failed in the fatal crashes that led to the Max’s grounding.

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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.

Near the end of 2019, Boeing was adamant that the aircraft would be airworthy by the middle of this year, after a second delay in its recertification process involved a “software issue” which has since been addressed and fixed, according to the OEM. The manufacturer said it has added “three additional layers of protection” to the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) which was identified as a factor in both crashes. More than 2,100 hours of testing has been completed on the new software, said Boeing.

In January, the company temporarily halted production of the 737 Max to mitigate costs on the program.

According to CNN, problems with the Max have cost Boeing US$18.7 billion so far.

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