Pilots and test crew members from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing Co (BA.N) are slated to begin a three-day certification test campaign for the 737 MAX on Monday.
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 fast-selling 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.
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.
Pilots will also intentionally trigger the reprogrammed stall-prevention software known as MCAS faulted in both crashes, and 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 and grappled with “stick shaker” column vibrations and other warnings.
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.