The Boeing 737 MAX has been cleared for certification, and the first flight, which is crucial to the survival of the flagship aircraft of the American aeronautical giant, could take place on Monday, according to federal aviation authorities.
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" Flights with test pilots from the FAA (aviation regulator in the United States, editor's note) could begin on Monday to assess the changes made to the 737 MAX's automated control systems ," the agency writes. Federal in a letter to Congress.
" The tests are expected to take several days and will include a wide range of in-flight maneuvers and safety procedures to allow the agency to determine whether the changes made meet FAA certification standards ," she added. Neither Boeing nor the FAA wanted to confirm the information of a first flight on Monday.
These flights, of extreme importance for the future of the aircraft and for the manufacturer, make the calendar subject to change. The weather was cloudy in the Seattle area, the birthplace of the aircraft manufacturer in the northwestern United States, Monday morning, with winds of 11 km / h and 5% chance of precipitation.
Thinning after the storm for Boeing
The 737 MAX has been grounded since March 13, 2019 after the accident of a copy of the Ethiopian Airlines company that left 157 dead. This tragedy came just months after the Lion Air MAX disaster, which killed 189 people.
The disturbing similarities between the two fatal accidents, shortly after takeoff, with an inability of the pilots to regain control of the aircraft, had led aviation safety authorities around the world to ban the entire fleet from flying. an indefinite period. For months, the American aeronautical giant has been struggling to return to service its medium-haul, whose sales were before this crisis its main source of income.
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The MCAS anti-stall software was implicated in the two accidents. However, other technical malfunctions, including one concerning electrical wiring, were subsequently detected during modifications to the device, slowing down the recertification process.
For weeks, the aircraft manufacturer has been waiting for the green light from the authorities to prove with test flights that the modifications carried out provide maximum safety. The market seemed optimistic. Boeing shares gained almost 8.5% soon after the opening of Wall Street. The automaker is a key player in the American economy.
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The civil aviation authorities can only approve the modified version of the aircraft after examining how the aircraft behaves in flight. They will also examine the thousands of data collected during these flights. For this reason, flight tests are scheduled over several days.
They will take place from Boeing Field, not far from Seattle. According to the New York Times, an FAA pilot will be in control to test the machine modifications and a Boeing test pilot will also be on board.
Boeing expected a few months ago that the MAX would return to service in mid-2020, that is, in June. But the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in travel restrictions and the confinement of workers, came to thwart his schedule. According to the Seattle Times, European and Canadian aviation safety authorities have also demanded " further substantial changes to the flight control system ".
" However, regulators have agreed that Boeing will be required to make these additional design changes (...) only after the MAX is returned to service ," writes the American newspaper. Questioned by AFP on this information, a spokesman for Boeing assured Friday that safety was " the top priority " of the group.
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" We are committed to answering all questions from regulators and meeting all certification and regulatory requirements, " he added. For Boeing, it is urgent to fly its plane again to extricate itself from a historic crisis. This aircraft represents more than two thirds of its order book. It is therefore central to the medium-term survival of the aircraft manufacturer, which, like all air transport, is suffering greatly from the Covid-19 crisis.
At the end of April, it announced the reduction of 10% of its workforce, or 16,000 jobs. S&P had downgraded its financial strength rating from A- to BBB in the process, relegating it to a notch of the speculative category.
Additional fixes required by foreign authorities could add substantial costs to the MAX program. They could also slow the ramp-up in deliveries that Boeing needs to replenish its cash flow.