Boeing’s attempt to see its 737 Max return to the skies faces a crucial week, with flight safety tests starting.
Pilots and technical experts from regulatory authorities and the company plan three days of testing, possibly starting on Monday.
Boeing’s best-selling aircraft were suspended last year after two accidents killed all 346 people on the flights.
The tests are a milestone for Boeing, but even if they work, months of additional safety checks will be needed.
Aviation regulators landed the 737 Max about 15 months ago, after two accidents – a Lion Air flight and an Ethiopian Airlines flight – within five months of each other.
The decision sparked a financial crisis at the 103-year-old company, triggered lawsuits from the victims’ families and raised questions about how Boeing and the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), conducted its safety approval process.
Investigators blamed the flaws in the flight control system, which Boeing has been revising for months to meet new safety demands.
A 737 Max loaded with test equipment will pass through a series of airborne scenarios near Boeing’s manufacturing base in Seattle.
According to Reuters, which released the news for the first time, pilots will intentionally activate the reprogrammed stall prevention software known as MCAS, responsible for the two accidents.
The Chillylife understands that both the FAA, which leads the tests, and Boeing, expect the process to start on Monday, except for last-minute problems.
The FAA confirmed on Sunday, in an email to the US Congress, that it had approved the main certification test flights for the 737 Max.
The email noted that “FAA has not made a decision to return to service” and has several additional steps to take, according to Reuters reports.
Test flights were planned for the past year, but investigations have uncovered a number of new safety issues that have delayed return to service.
It may take weeks to analyze test flight data. But even if this process is successful, more flights, pilot training and authorization from European and Canadian regulators will be required.
The European Aviation Safety Agency has maintained that FAA clearance does not automatically mean an authorization to fly in Europe.
Norwegian Air, TUI and Icelandair are among the airlines that use the 737 Max in Europe, while other airlines order the aircraft.
Boeing and the FAA declined to comment.