The Boeing 737 MAX was grounded in March 2019, after two fatal crashes just months apart. Over the past 15 months Boeing has been working towards recertification, and it looks like that may soon become a reality.
Boeing completes 737 MAX certification flight
On Monday, pilots and test crew members from both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration began three days of test flights intended to once again get the 737 MAX certified. Well, that has gone as scheduled, and these test flights were wrapped up yesterday (Wednesday).
Specifically, a Boeing 737 MAX 7 with the registration code N7201S performed the following key flights:
- On Monday the plane operated a 2hr3min flight from Boeing Field to Moses Lake, and then a 1hr53min flight from Moses Lake to Boeing Field
- On Tuesday the plane operated a 3hr56min flight from Boeing Field to Moses Lake, and then a 33min flight from Moses Lake back to Boeing Field
- On Wednesday the plane operated a 21min flight to & from Boeing Field
The test flights over the past three days have been intended to evaluate Boeing’s proposed changes to the automated flight control system on the 737 MAX.
They ran scripted mid-air scenarios that included steep bank turns, progressing to more extreme maneuvers. On top of that, the reprogrammed MCAS was tested, as that’s what was involved in both crashes.
Prior to these flights, Boeing had already performed dozens of test flights with this exact Boeing 737 MAX 7, so what’s new here is that FAA officials were onboard as well.
When should we expect the 737 MAX to be certified?
While there were initially only three days of test flights, don’t expect that this means the 737 MAX will be certified by the end of the week, or anything. The FAA said the following in a statement:
“The agency is following a deliberate process and will take the time it needs to thoroughly review Boeing’s work. We will lift the grounding order only after FAA safety experts are satisfied that the aircraft meets certification standards.”
It goes without saying that these test flights were a key component of the certification process, and now the data from these flights needs to be carefully analyzed.
Then at some point in the future (we’re talking weeks, not days), FAA Administrator Steve Dickson will likely take a similar test flight, since he has promised the plane won’t be certified until he has signed off on it. The FAA then needs to approve new training procedures for pilots.
With that, most put the timeline of the 737 MAX being certified to September at the earliest. That’s if everything goes well, which seems optimistic given all the delays we’ve seen up to this point.
Even once the jet is certified by the FAA, Boeing and 737 MAX operators still face a massive uphill battle (not even accounting for the pandemic, which has destroyed demand for air travel):
- How will airlines get passengers comfortable with the thought of flying the 737 MAX?
- Will other global regulators go along with the FAA’s certification, given how much trust has been lost in the organization as a result of this mess?
The 737 MAX has this week completed its certification flights, though it’ll probably be a while before we know if the data from these flights makes them a success. All of this comes about 15 months after the plane was grounded globally.
These test flights were an important step in getting the 737 MAX back into service, though best case scenario we’re still likely months from the plane being certified.
Once certified by the FAA, the next challenge will be convincing passengers and global regulators that the plane is safe to fly.