WASHINGTON: Boeing and federal regulators are preparing to hold a critical set of test flights on the 737 Max early next week, which would mark a milestone in its return to service after being grounded for more than 15 months.
Aviation industry officials briefed on the plans, which still haven’t been finalised, indicate that the US Federal Aviation Administration has reviewed Boeing’s extensive safety analysis of fixes it has made and is comfortable moving to the next step: putting the plane through its paces with test pilots.
Boeing shares pared their losses on the Bloomberg report. The shares had tumbled as much as 4.2pc in the trading session after Bernstein analyst Douglas Harned downgraded the company to “sell.” He cited uncertainty over the 737’s comeback and the prospect of a pandemic disrupting air travel through mid-decade.
Boeing had privately targeted hosting the FAA flights by the end of June. The first of several days of test flights could come as early as Monday, according to sources.
Setting a date for certification flights is one of the most critical steps on Boeing’s road to resuming service on its best-selling jet since it was grounded in March 2019 amid a world-wide furore following the second fatal crash in less than five months. Several more hurdles remain before the plane can get its final certification from regulators, and airline customers have been told that it could come as soon as September if all goes well.
Successfully completing the test would provide some rare good news for Boeing and chief executive Dave Calhoun at a time when the aviation industry is reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic and could help unlock billions of dollars in inventory from about 450 planes the company has built but been unable to deliver.