Pilots and test crew members from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing should begin a three-day certification test campaign for the 737 MAX on Monday, sources told Reuters.
After a preflight briefing over several hours, the crew will board a 737 MAX 7 outfitted with test equipment at Boeing Field near Seattle.
The crew will run methodically scripted mid-air scenarios such as steep-banking turns, progressing to more extreme manoeuvres on a route primarily over Washington state. The plan over at least three days could include touch-and-go landings at the eastern Washington airport in Moses Lake, and a path over the Pacific Ocean coastline, adjusting the flight plan and timing as needed for weather and other factors.
Pilots will also intentionally trigger the reprogrammed MCAS stall-prevention software faulted in both crashes in aerodynamic stall conditions. The tests are meant to ensure new protections Boeing added to MCAS are robust enough to prevent the scenario pilots encountered before both crashes, when they were unable to counteract MCAS.
Boeing’s preparation has included hundreds of hours inside a 737 MAX flight simulator in Renton, Washington, and hundreds of hours in the air on the same 737 MAX 7 test aeroplane without FAA officials on board.
After the flights, FAA officials in Washington and the Seattle-area will analyse reams of digital and paperwork flight test data to assess the jet’s airworthiness.
Weeks later, after the data is analysed, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, a former F-15 fighter pilot who has promised the 737 MAX will not be approved until he has personally signed off on it, will board the same plane to make his assessments.
If all goes well, the FAA would then need to approve new pilot training procedures and would not likely approve the plane’s ungrounding until September. That means the jet is on a path to resume U.S. service before year-end.
Regulators in Europe and Canada, while working closely with the FAA, will also conduct their own assessments and have pinpointed concerns that go beyond the FAA. They may require additional changes after the 737 MAX is cleared to return to service.