US aviation regulators approved a critical set of test flights on the Boeing Co 737 MAX to begin as soon as yesterday after reviewing the manufacturer’s safety assessment of the multiple fixes devised for the plane.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed the start of the multiday program in an e-mail to congressional staffers on Sunday.
“Over the past several weeks the FAA has been reviewing the system safety assessment submitted by Boeing,” the agency said in the e-mail. “The FAA’s Type Inspection Authorization Board has completed its review, clearing the way for flight certification testing to begin.”
The action signals that the government is finally comfortable with the multiple fixes that the planemaker has devised for the aircraft, which has been grounded for more than 15 months after two fatal crashes.
Two people briefed on the planning said that the goal was to begin the tests yesterday, but the start was still subject to last-minute delays.
Such tests are one of the final stages by the government before it certifies an aircraft.
ONE STEP FORWARD
The FAA would have one of its test pilots fly the plane alongside a Boeing pilot. They would be accompanied in the cockpit by an FAA flight-test engineer and a Boeing flight-test manager. Additional specialists would be in the cabin monitoring computerized instrumentation on the plane.
“We continue to work diligently on safely returning the 737 Max to service. We defer to the FAA and global regulators on the process,” Boeing wrote in a statement.
The FAA said in its letter that a number of steps remain before the aircraft can resume carrying passengers in the US, and by extension, elsewhere around the world.
“It is important to note, getting to this step does not mean the FAA has completed its compliance evaluation or other work associated with return to service,” the agency said. “The FAA has not made a decision on return to service.”
It will take months for the agency to complete new pilot-training standards and issue regulations governing multiple software and hardware changes to the plane.
Airline customers have been told that it could come in September if all goes well, although they would still have to retrain pilots and perform maintenance on the fleets of planes that have been in storage before they enter service.
The FAA added that it would retain the authority of inspecting each new plane to ensure that it meets all federal requirements.
The MAX was grounded by the FAA on March 13 last year, after most of the rest of the world had already sidelined the plane following the second fatal crash involving a flight-control feature. The crashes — in October 2018 off the coast of Indonesia and in March last year near Addis Ababa — killed a total of 346 people.
The certification flights are scheduled to occur over three separate days.
The agency, which worked closely with Boeing during the process of revising the plane, has a list of maneuvers that it would demonstrate on the plane to verify that alterations to its system function as designed.
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