This is an important day for Boeing. Its 737 Max could make its first certification flight as early as Monday, June 29, a crucial step in the survival of the U.S. aerospace giant’s flagship aircraft, which has been grounded for 14 months. On Friday, two sources close to the case told AFP that the theft could take place “as early as early next week.” Neither Boeing nor the aviation regulator, the FAA, would confirm the information of a first flight as early as Monday.
“We continue to work diligently for the return to service of the 737 Max. We are deferring to the FAA and international regulators on the process,” a Boeing spokesman told AFP on Sunday. The 737 Max has been grounded since March 13, 2019 after an Ethiopian Airlines copy crashed, killing 157 people. The tragedy came just months after the Lion Air Max disaster, which killed 189 people.
The disturbing similarities between the two fatal accidents, shortly after take-off, with the pilots inability to regain control of the aircraft, had led aviation safety authorities around the world to ban the entire fleet from flying indefinitely. For months, the American aerospace giant has struggled to get its medium-haul aircraft back into service, whose sales were its main source of revenue before the crisis.
3 days of testing to analyze thousands of data
McAS anti-stall software was implicated in both accidents. But other technical malfunctions, including one involving electrical wiring, were later detected during the modification work of the device, slowing down the re-certification process. For weeks, the aircraft manufacturer has been waiting for the green light from the authorities to prove with the test flights that the modifications made bring maximum safety.
Civil aviation authorities can only approve the modified version of the aircraft after scrutinizing how it behaves in flight. They will also examine the thousands of data collected during these flights. For this reason, flight tests are scheduled for three days, according to the New York Times. They will take place from Boeing Field, not far from Seattle, the birthplace of the legendary manufacturer, in Washington State.
The weather is often temperamental but the forecast shows only partly cloudy weather, little wind and a 10% chance of precipitation on Monday. According to the New York Times, an FAA pilot will be at the controls to test the modifications to the machine and a Boeing test pilot will also be on board. In general, these flights are meticulously prepared.
A historical crisis exacerbated by coronavirus
Boeing had hoped a few months ago that the Max would be back into service in mid-2020, i.e. in June. But the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in travel restrictions and the confinement of workers, thwarted its schedule. According to the Seattle Times, European and Canadian aviation safety authorities have also demanded “substantial new changes to the flight control system.
“However, regulators have agreed that Boeing will be required to make these additional design changes (…) only after the Max is back into service,” the US newspaper writes. Asked about the information, a Boeing spokesman said on Friday that safety was the group’s “top priority.” “We are committed to answering all regulatory questions and meeting all certification and regulatory requirements,” he added.
For Boeing, there is an urgent need to fly its plane back to get out of a historic crisis. This aircraft accounts for more than two-thirds of its order backlog. It is therefore central to the medium-term survival of the aircraft manufacturer, which, like all air transport, is suffering from the Covid-19 crisis.
At the end of April, it announced the elimination of 10% of its workforce, or 16,000 jobs. In the wake of the downgrade, the rating agency S-P downgraded its financial strength rating from A- to BBB, relegating it to one notch from the speculative category. The additional fixes required by foreign authorities could add substantial costs to the Max program. They could also slow the ramp-up of deliveries Boeing needs to replenish its cash flow.