An unpainted Boeing 737 MAX aircraft is seen parked in an aerial photo at Renton Municipal Airport near Boeing Renton’s facilities in Renton, Washington, USA, July 1, 2019. Photograph taken July 1, 2019.
Lindsey Wassen | Reuters
Pilots and test crew members from the US Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing are slated to begin a three-day certification test campaign for the 737 MAX on Monday, people familiar with the affair.
The test is a watershed moment in Boeing’s worst corporate crisis, long since compounded by the new coronavirus pandemic that has dramatically reduced air travel and demand for aircraft.
The base of the fast-selling 737 MAX in March 2019 after two crashes in five months killed 346 people in Ethiopia and Indonesia triggered lawsuits, investigations by Congress and the Department of Justice, and cut off a key source of Boeing cash.
The FAA confirmed to US lawmakers on Sunday that an agency board had completed a review of Boeing’s safety system assessment for the 737 MAX “clearing the way for flight certification tests to begin. Flights with the FAA test pilots could start as soon as tomorrow, evaluating Boeing for proposed changes to the automated flight control system on the 737 MAX. “
After a pre-flight briefing for several hours, the crew will board a 737 MAX 7 equipped with test equipment at Boeing Field near Seattle, one of the people said.
The crew will methodically execute scenarios in the air with dashes, such as sharp turns, progressing to more extreme maneuvers on a route primarily over Washington state. The plan for at least three days could include touch landings at the eastern Washington airport at Moses Lake, and a path over the Pacific Ocean coast, adjusting the flight plan and weather as necessary for weather and other factors, one of the people said.
Pilots will also intentionally activate the reprogrammed crash prevention software known as MCAS with failures in both accidents and aerodynamic crash conditions, the people said.
Boeing declined to comment.
The FAA email said the tests will last for several days and “will include a wide range of flight maneuvers and emergency procedures to allow the agency to assess whether the changes meet FAA certification standards.”
He added that “the FAA has not made a decision on return to service” and has a number of additional steps before it can clear the plane to do so.
The rigors of the test campaign go beyond Boeing’s previous test flights, completed in a matter of hours in a single day, industry sources say.
The tests are intended to ensure that the new protections Boeing added to the MCAS are robust enough to prevent the stage pilots from meeting before both collisions, when they were unable to counter the MCAS and dealt with vibrations from the “shaking column” “and other warnings, one of the people said. .
Boeing readiness has included hundreds of hours inside a 737 MAX flight simulator at its Longacres facility in Renton, Washington, and hundreds of hours in the air on the same 737 MAX 7 test aircraft with no FAA officers on board. .
At least one of those practice flights included the same test parameters expected for Monday, one of the people said.
After the flights, FAA officials in the Washington and Seattle area will analyze a large amount of digital flight test data and documents to assess the airworthiness of the plane.
Probably weeks later, after the data is analyzed and training protocols are signed, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, a former F-15 fighter pilot who promised that the 737 MAX will not be approved until he has signed it. He will personally board the same plane to do his assessments, two of the people said.
If all goes well, the FAA would need to approve new pilot training procedures, among other reviews, and would likely not approve the plane taking off until September, the people said.
That means the plane is on track to resume US service before the end of the year, although the process has been plagued with delays for more than a year.
“Based on the number of problems that have been discovered, I would be surprised if the flight tests are ‘one and complete,'” said another person with knowledge of the flight plans.
Regulators in Europe and Canada, while working closely with the FAA, will also conduct their own assessments and have identified concerns that go beyond the FAA. Additional changes may be required after the 737 MAX is authorized to return to service.
“This is new territory,” said an industry source with knowledge of Boeing’s previous tests. “There is much more play between regulators, and certainly much more pressure and public attention.”