Within a week of completing a year banned from flying, the Boeing 737 Max is close to making its certification flight, said Stephen Dickson, head of the FAA, the US civil aviation agency, which coordinates work to correct jet problems.
Speaking at an aviation conference in Washington, Dickson said that “we’re working though the last few software review and documentation issues and then I think within a matter of a few weeks we should be seeing a certification flight.” Although it may take place in March, the long-awaited test flight should be carried out in early April, making room for the aircraft to return to service in the following months.
After two fatal accidents between October 2018 and March 2019, the FAA decided to gorund the entire 737 Max fleet, at the time a total of 371 aircraft. The recognition that the jet had serious safety problems, however, came only after appeals from other aviation agencies and President Donald Trump himself.
Under pressure, the agency, which had been denying irregularities on the plane (as well as Boeing), capitulated on March 13, when most of the 737 Maxs were already stopped at the initiative of the airlines themselves, suspicious of the similarities between the two Lion Air accidents and Ethiopian Airlines.
It was later learned that both had gone on irrecoverable dives due to the malfunctioning of the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) software, which was designed to help pilots at high angles of attack. Instead, the system inadvertently lowered the plane’s nose, based on erroneous readings from other sensors.
Initially, Boeing tried to find a quick solution that would not affect the production of the jet, but later revelations ended up further worsening the image of the manufacturer and culminating in the dismissal of the CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, in December.
Although the certification flight could be a turning point in the serious situation of the 737 Max, it does not mean that Boeing will have overcome the episode. With about 800 planes grounded, between units delivered and waiting to be sent to its customers, the planemaker will have to manage a long process of normalization in its production chain that can take years.