The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has completed a three-day series of re-certification test flights on Boeing’s much troubled 737 MAX airliner. The MAX was the best-selling jet in the company’s history and close to 5,000 were on order when the type’s certification was withdrawn in March 2019 after two fatal crashes within five months resulted in the loss of 346 lives.
After the type’s 15-month grounding, the first of these short series of test recertification flights took place on Monday (June 29), after the FAA issued the following statement: “The FAA and Boeing are conducting a series of certification flights this week to evaluate Boeing’s proposed changes to the automated flight control system on the 737 MAX. The aircraft departed from Boeing Field in Seattle at 9:55am Pacific Time today for the first round of testing. The flight is expected to take several hours.
“The certification flights are expected to take approximately three days. They will include a wide array of flight manoeuvres and emergency procedures to assess whether the changes meet FAA certification standards. The tests are being conducted by test pilots and engineers from the FAA and Boeing.”
Following the flights, the FAA stated: “During three days of testing this week, FAA pilots and engineers evaluated Boeing’s proposed changes in connection with the automated flight control system on the aircraft.
“While completion of the flights is an important milestone, a number of key tasks remain, including evaluating the data gathered during these flights.”
“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 is likely that the MAX is still at least several months away from a return to passenger service. Even after the data gained from the new test flights has been processed, pilots may need to be retrained and, given the global grounding of the type, some of the world’s aviation authorities have already said they will insist upon issuing their own certification, rather than solely relying upon the FAA’s findings.