The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has told Boeing that it can start test flights of its troubled 737 MAX single-aisle airliner with FAA pilots aboard, American media have reported. These test flights would be an important step towards re-certifying the aircraft to carry passengers. The airliner was grounded in March 2019, as a result of two crashes which killed a total of 346 people.
News network CNN reported that the FAA had sent a letter (by email, according to the New York Times) to the US Congress on Sunday, to inform the legislators of the latest developments. Reportedly, the agency said that it did not yet have a date for ending the grounding of the 737 MAX.
“Flights with FAA test pilots could begin as early as tomorrow [Monday], evaluating Boeing’s proposed changes to the automated flight control system on the 737 MAX,” CNN quoted the letter as saying. “Testing is expected to take several days, and will include a wide array of flight manoeuvres and emergency procedures to enable the agency to assess whether the changes meet FAA certification standards.”
“Boeing continues to work diligently to support the safe return of the 737 MAX to commercial service,” the manufacturer told the news channel. “We defer to the FAA and global regulators on the process.”
The problems with the 737 MAX have so far cost Boeing $18.7-billion. The airframer suspended production of the troubled jet in January (before the Covid-19 pandemic) as it could not deliver the aircraft to customers. It restarted production in May.
Boeing had previously expressed the hope that the 737 MAX would return to service by the middle of this year. But, in its letter to Congress, the FAA made clear that the start of the new flight test programme did not mean that it had “completed its compliance evaluation or other work associated with [the 737 MAX’s] return to service”.