Boeing’s troubled 737 Max aircraft is set to take to the skies again after it was grounded globally in March 2019 following two crashes that killed a total of 346 people.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given Boeing the green light to test the aircraft, and the first flight could take place as early as Monday, June 29.
“Flights with FAA test pilots could begin as early as tomorrow, evaluating Boeing’s proposed changes to the automated flight control system on the 737 Max,” the FAA said in a widely reported letter to lawmakers. “Testing is expected to take several days, and will include a wide array of flight maneuvers and emergency procedures to enable the agency to assess whether the changes meet FAA certification standards.”
The 737 Max was grounded after two fatal crashes in the space of just five months. The first happened in October 2018 when a Lion Air flight came down shortly after taking off from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia, resulting in the deaths of all 157 passengers and crew. Then, in March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed near Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, killing all 189 people on board.
Crash investigations discovered that a fault with the Max’s automated flight control system sent the doomed planes into nosedives. Boeing set about developing a fix, which has now been implemented, though during the jet’s grounding several other faults were also identified and therefore had to be addressed.
The test flights, which are expected to take place near Boeing’s manufacturing base in Seattle, Washington, will use a 737 Max equipped with computer equipment to test the revamped flight control system while also monitoring the plane’s response to various other scenarios.
Of course, even if the first test flights go well, further checks lasting weeks or possibly months will likely be needed in order to satisfy the FAA that the 737 Max is safe for commercial air travel.
Around 500 Max planes operated by carriers around the world are currently out of service, while Boeing has a further 400 in storage waiting to be delivered to customers.
Production of the beleaguered aircraft was suspended in January 2020 while Boeing waited for the FAA to complete a review of the Max’s design changes. Boeing said in May 2020 that it was ready to start building the Max again, albeit at “a low rate.”
“Safely returning the 737 Max to service is our top priority,” Boeing said at the time, adding, “We know that the process of approving the 737 Max’s return to service, and of determining appropriate training requirements, must be extraordinarily thorough and robust, to ensure that our regulators, customers, and the flying public have confidence in the 737 Max updates.”
Digital Trends has reached out to Boeing for more information on the upcoming testing and we will update this article when we hear back.
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