LONDON – Pilots and Test Crew from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing are expected to take to the skies on Monday to kick off a certification test campaign on the 737 MAX, according to sources at Reuters.
The flight tests are expected to last at least three days and is a pivotal moment in Boeing’s worst-ever corporate crisis which has been made worse by the effects of Coronavirus on the airline industry.
A Troubled Start
The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded since March 2019 following two fatal crashes which killed 346 people.
Should the certification flights be successful, the FAA would then need to approve new training procedures as well as complete other steps. It is not expected that the aircraft would be ungrounded until September.
On Friday, the FAA said that “the team is making progress towards FAA certification flights in the near future.”
It was also added that the FAA was reviewing documentation to determine if the criteria have been met to move onto the next stage of evaluation.
The FAA confirmed that it “will conduct the certification flights only after we are satisfied with that data”.
Light at the end of the tunnel
In March, it was reported by Reuters that Boeing would separate the wiring bundles on the MAX as they were flagged by regulators as being potentially dangerous.
In April, Boeing confirmed it would make two new software updates to the 737 MAX’s flight control computer.
However, it was said that these software updates were unrelated to the troubled MCAS system that was at fault in both fatal crashes.
Boeing have also confirmed they are adding new safeguards on the MCAS anti-stall system.
Additionally, the FAA is requiring operators to inspect the wiring shields in the MAX for issues that could, in extreme circumstances, cause dual-engine failures or erroneous engine data.
The wiring shield issue does not relate to the flight control system implicated as a factor contributing to two 737 Max crash incidents.
What happens on the certification flights?
According to sources, the preflight briefing before the flight is expected to take several hours.
The Crew will then board a 737 MAX 7 fitted with test equipment at Boeing Field (BFI) near Seattle.
Once airborne, it is expected the Crew will run through scripted scenarios such as steep-banking turns and progressing to more extreme maneuvers.
The flight could include several touch-and-go landings as well as a path over the pacific coastline.
The Crew will also intentionally trigger the reprogrammed stall-prevention software known as MCAS.
It is expected that the Crew will perform a full aerodynamic stall.
The test is supposed to ensure that the new protections Boeing has added are robust enough to prevent the scenario encountered in both fatal flights, where they were unable to counteract the systems and other factors such as the stick shaker stall warning.
On the Right Path
Boeing has spent months in both a simulator of the MAX and onboard the MAX 7 running through Monday’s test flight but without FAA officials onboard.
A source revealed that at least one of those practice flights included the same testing parameters expected on the test.
After the flights, the FAA will analyze data to assess the airworthiness of the MAX. FAA Administrator, Steve Dickson, has promised that the 737 MAX will not be approved until he has personally signed off on it.
It is expected that Mr. Dickson will board the same plane to make his assessment following the analysis of data.
Despite this, the FAA will need to approve new training procedures and other reviews and it is unlikely it will not approve the ungrounding of the plane until September.
However, this is good news for the 737 MAX as it is now on the path to resume U.S. commercial service before the end of the year.