MIAMI — This week, Southwest Airlines received the Boeing 737 MAX 8. Well… just for five days.
The reason? The Dallas-based airline, launch customer of the newest generation of the 737 family aircraft, and Boeing will work together to assess the aircraft under a normal operational environment. Flight and ground crews, airport staff and mechanics will work with the aircraft to literally “take the MAX to the max.”
This comprehensive test, called “Service Ready Operational Validation” (SROV) is intended to provide accurate data on how the MAX will perform in a typical airline schedule to and from different airports.
According to Randy Tinseth, VP Marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, the MAX will be taken “to several of the airports in Southwest’s system to simulate the kind of real life things the airplane will encounter on any given day of revenue service.”
These tests are not novel. In the past, Boeing and All Nippon Airways (ANA) performed the same tests before the entry into service (EIS) of the 787 Dreamliner. Also, Bombardier and SWISS carried out a so-called “route proving” test campaign for the CSeries CS100 before its first revenue flight.
The maturity of the basic platform on which the 737 MAX relies, and the uneventful evolving of the flight test campaign have contributed to move the EIS of the aircraft to Southwest, now expected to take place during the first half of 2017.
The aircraft selected to carry out the SROV is the 7th 737 MAX built and the 4th in the flight test campaign (N8704Q • MSN 36988 • LN 5788). Interestingly, this was the aircraft displayed at the 2016 Farnborough Air Show, and it has been fitted with the new Heart passenger cabin, recently introduced by Southwest Airlines. The cabin pictures shown below were taken during a media tour at the airshow.
During the arrival of the MAX to Southwest’s headquarters at Dallas Love Field last Thursday afternoon, the pilots executed a planned missed approach procedure. The fly-by delighted scores of Southwest employees, who had gone outside to give some “Luv” to the newest member of the family.
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) September 23, 2016
Southwest’s Senior Advisor Communication & Outreach Brian Parrish told Airways, “SROV will give Southwest the opportunity to test and operate the new flight displays and systems as well as the new CFM LEAP-1B engines. Ground Operations will be able to evaluate ground servicing the aircraft by performing procedures like deicing and even boarding and deplaning passengers. In the evenings, Southwest’s Tech Operations Employees will exercise the new diagnostic systems onboard the aircraft and will shadow Boeing Employees as they validate maintenance procedures. SROV provides the opportunity for Southwest and Boeing to take the aircraft out of the test environment and into the operational environment where we will look at approximately 225 operational conditions.”
Parrish highlighted that the SROV was planned down to the minute, which one would expect of the Southwest way of doing things. The aircraft’s schedule is jam-packed with checks, validations, and tests, with a primary focus on Air, Ground and Technical Operational procedures.
On its second day with Southwest, the aircraft flew to Denver International Airport, where Airways took a look to the first MAX operated by Southwest Airlines. The arrival was slightly delayed by little over one hour because Boeing scheduled a small time window for Southwest employees to “Meet the MAX” in Dallas.
The MAX, operating under flight Boeing Company number 104 (BOE 104) landed at Denver at 14:13 local, and parked at Gate C42. There, Southwest and Boeing employees were gathered to welcome the jetliner.
After being parked, wheel chocks were placed and the jet bridge was pulled up to the boarding (L1) door, the ground power cord, which supplies electrical power to the aircraft while at the gate, was plugged in, and pre-conditioned air hose was also attached to its standard outlet on the belly of the aircraft. All of these procedures would occur during a normal flight “turn.”
Meanwhile, at the back of the aircraft, Southwest ramp agents attached the potable water hose and lavatory service hoses to the aircraft, in order to validate that this standard ground equipment is suitable for its use on the MAX.
One remarkable difference between the Next Generation 737 and the MAX family aircraft (aside from the MAX new CFM LEAP-1B engines and AT Winglets) is the MAX longer nose gear. And if you don’t think that it is a big deal, actually it is, and it could cause some operational setbacks.
The longer nose gear puts the ground power outlet even higher off the ground, which was already a challenge for ground workers of short stature. Southwest has already mentioned the need to get step stools for shorter employees so they will be able to connect the power cord to the aircraft. There longer nose gear does bring the 737 MAX level – and does not change the center of gravity.
This scenario may lead to changes in Southwest Airlines current boarding procedures and seating policies.
Some airlines have chosen to use tail stands, which fit into a special outlet at the base of the tail section of 737-800s and -900s. Southwest doesn’t currently use these stands, but these may be deemed necessary.
After just one hour and 45 minutes, the aircraft left Denver bound to Albuquerque, and then flew back to Dallas. On Saturday, September 24th it will fly to Chicago Midway, where aircraft deicing will be practiced, and return to Dallas, while on Sunday it will fly to Austin, Albuquerque, and Phoenix on to carry out additional validations. On Monday, the MAX will complete the SROV tests in Dallas.
After the departure, Southwest’s Denver station held a cook-out for employees. The company said that while employees were unable to board the aircraft, they will have other opportunities to tour the MAX before it enters into service.
Southwest’s pilot’s union, Southwest Airlines Pilot’s Association (SWAPA) has announced they refuse to fly the MAX until a new labor contract is agreed upon, because the MAX isn’t specifically itemized as a Southwest aircraft type under their current contract.
However, the MAX has the same type rating for pilots, and only requires a minimal amount of training. In a recent interview with Ed Wilson, Production Chief Pilot, 737 program, he commented that there will not be any differences in the training, and crews will only require two days to transition from the 737NG to the 737 MAX.
“From a pilot perspective, only the larger flight displays are noticeable.” He said.
SWAPA’s negotiating committee announced on August 29th that it had reached an agreement in principle, and the union’s board on Wednesday September 21st said the contract would be sent to its membership for a vote.
Given the tests being performed this week, it’s apparent that Southwest is still optimistically viewing MAX implementation as all systems go.