Boe­ing set for crit­i­cal 737 Max flight tests

The test is a piv­otal mo­ment in com­pany’s worst-ever cri­sis, since com­pounded by COVID-19 pan­demic

Arab News - - Business - Reuters Seat­tle

Pilots and test crew mem­bers from the US Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Boe­ing Co. are slated to be­gin a three-day cer­ti­fi­ca­tion test cam­paign for the 737 MAX on Mon­day, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter told Reuters.

The test is a piv­otal mo­ment in Boe­ing’s worst-ever cor­po­rate cri­sis, long since com­pounded by the COVID-19 pan­demic that has slashed air travel and jet de­mand. The ground­ing of the fast­selling 737 MAX in March 2019 after crashes killed 346 peo­ple in Ethiopia and In­done­sia trig­gered law­suits, in­ves­ti­ga­tions by Congress and the De­part­ment of Jus­tice and cut off a key source of Boe­ing’s cash.

After a pre­flight brief­ing over sev­eral hours, the crew will board a 737 MAX 7 out­fit­ted with test equip­ment at Boe­ing Field near Seat­tle, one of the peo­ple said.

The crew will run me­thod­i­cally scripted mid-air sce­nar­ios such as steep-bank­ing turns, pro­gress­ing to more ex­treme ma­neu­vers 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, one of the peo­ple said. Pilots will also in­ten­tion­ally trig­ger the re­pro­grammed stall­pre­ven­tion soft­ware known as MCAS faulted in both crashes, and aero­dy­namic stall con­di­tions, the peo­ple said.

The rig­ors of the test cam­paign go beyond pre­vi­ous Boe­ing test flights, com­pleted in a mat­ter of hours on a sin­gle day, in­dus­try sources say.

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 and grap­pled with “stick shaker” col­umn vi­bra­tions and other warn­ings, one of the peo­ple said.

Boe­ing’s prepa­ra­tion has in­cluded hun­dreds of hours in­side a 737 MAX flight sim­u­la­tor at its Lon­gacres fa­cil­ity in Ren­ton, Wash­ing­ton, and hun­dreds of hours in the air on the same 737 MAX 7 test air­plane without FAA of­fi­cials on board.

At least one of those prac­tice flights in­cluded the same test­ing pa­ram­e­ters ex­pected on Mon­day, one of the peo­ple said.

After the flights, FAA of­fi­cials in

Wash­ing­ton and the Seat­tle-area will an­a­lyze reams of dig­i­tal and pa­per­work flight test data to as­sess the jet’s air­wor­thi­ness.

Likely weeks later, after the data is an­a­lyzed and train­ing pro­to­cols are firmed up, 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, two of the peo­ple said. If all goes well, the FAA would then need to ap­prove new pi­lot train­ing pro­ce­dures, among other re­views, and would not likely ap­prove the plane’s un­ground­ing un­til Septem­ber, the peo­ple said. That means the jet is on a path to re­sume US ser­vice be­fore year-end, though the process has been plagued by de­lays for more than a year.

“Based on how many prob­lems have been un­cov­ered, I would be stunned if the flight tests are ‘one and done,’” said an­other per­son with knowl­edge of the flight plans. “(The FAA will) make sure they find enough stuff wrong to demon­strate they are putting this jet through its paces. The last thing the FAA or Boe­ing wants is for the Ad­min­is­tra­tor to do his own flight and say ‘it’s not ready.’ Boe­ing wants Dick­son’s flight to be a coronation.”

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. “This is new ter­ri­tory,” said one in­dus­try source with knowl­edge of prior Boe­ing tests. “There’s a lot more play be­tween reg­u­la­tors, and cer­tainly a lot more pres­sure and pub­lic at­ten­tion.”

BACK­GROUND 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 ma­neu­vers on a route pri­mar­ily over Wash­ing­ton state.

The plan over at least three days could in­clude touch-andgo land­ings at the east­ern Wash­ing­ton air­port in Moses Lake, and a path over the Pa­cific Ocean coast­line.

Pilots will also in­ten­tion­ally trig­ger the re­pro­grammed stall­pre­ven­tion soft­ware known as MCAS faulted in both crashes, and aero­dy­namic stall con­di­tions.

Reuters/File

A Lufthansa Boe­ing 747 sits on the tar­mac at the site of French air­craft stor­age and re­cy­cling com­pany Tar­mac Aerosave in Tarbes. Boe­ing 737 MAX jets have been grounded since crashes killed 346 peo­ple in Ethiopia and In­done­sia.

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