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FAA and Boeing Complete 737 MAX Test Flights – What’s Next?

The Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing completed the 737 MAX test flights, evaluating the aircraft over three days. Now, civil aviation officials will evaluate the data gathered from the flights, determine if any additional changes are needed, before rescinding the aircraft’s ground order.

After three days of flight testing, Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration are done examining the 737 MAX operations, and now begin the arduous process of evaluating whether or not the troubled airframe should carry passengers again. The FAA confirmed the end of flight testing in a press release and test video published online.

Evaluating Automated Flight Systems on the Aircraft

The test flights began on Monday, June 29, 2020, after the FAA gave Boeing clearance over the prior weekend. The exam flights continued through Wednesday, July 1, 2020, giving engineers on both sides adequate data to evaluate aircraft operations and software, including the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).

“During three days of testing this week, FAA pilots and engineers evaluated Boeing’s proposed changes in connection with the automated flight control system on the aircraft,” the FAA statement reads. “While completion of the flights is an important milestone, a number of key tasks remain, including evaluating the data gathered during these flights.”

While the test flights offered valuable insight into changes Boeing made, there’s no timetable to when the FAA may rescind their grounding order. Before any decision is made, the FAA must go through at least four steps involving multiple stakeholders.

The first is a review with the Flight Standardization Board and the international Joint Operations Evaluation Board (JOEB). The JOEB includes partners from Canada, Europe and Brazil, and will focus on minimum pilot training requirements. Together, the two committees will evaluate the data, and prepare a public report on their findings. The FSB will then present a final public report.

From there, the aviation administration and the multi-agency Technical Advisory Board will go through Boeing’s final design documentation for compliance. Both groups will issue reports, in order to determine if the aircraft meets FAA requirements.

Once those are complete, the FAA will issue a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community, as well as an airworthiness directive on corrective action needed to fly the aircraft once more. After all these steps, the FAA could rescind the ground order.

Boeing has not publicly commented on the test flights or the comments from the FAA.

Tests Complete After Damaging OIG Report

The 737 MAX test flights completed on the same day the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a timeline report on the launch and grounding of the 737 MAX. The report noted that Boeing created the MCAS system to compensate for larger engines, but may not have been forthcoming to the agency about changes. In addition, a culture of internal pressure could have contributed to Boeing “cutting corners” on the aircraft’s approval.

The Inspector General is not the only one frustrated about the 737 MAX program. In June 2020, U.S. Senators accused the current FAA director of “stonewalling” several investigations related to the airframe’s approval and subsequent fatal accidents.

JonMST July 21, 2020

It appears the engine mount position change, and the size of the engine, changed the characteristics of the airframe. This should get a new FAA type certification, rather than trying to cover up the issues with computer control.

seigex July 12, 2020

"Unfortunately, Boeing has a history that is scary in this regard, going back to the rudder problems with the 737-200 and 737-300 fleets (think United @ COS, US Air @ PIT, and the Eastwind 733 which survived, but which allowed them to figure out the problem)." Boeing's not the only plane with a history of rudder problems. Let's not forget the A300 over the bronx (AA587) a month after 9/11.

Boggie Dog July 11, 2020

@edgewood49: The 737 series aircraft has a wing that is much lower to the ground than the other aircraft you mentioned. The design was suitable until the LEAP engine was selected for the Max. This engine is much larger in diameter and required adding height to the nose gear, moving the engine pylon forward, and tilting the engine intake up so it would fit under the wing so as to not strike the ground. The original engines used on early 737 series aircraft had plenty of room for the engines. Later series adapted a more efficient high bypass turbo fan and if you notice the bottom of the intake is flattened on those models. The Max went too far to adapt this newer, more fuel efficient engine which messed up a really good airplane. And that's why MCAS is such an important system on the Boeing 737 Max.

PaulMSN July 8, 2020

edgewood49, did those planes have the same problems with control that the MAX has? I've heard nothing like that.

edgewood49 July 7, 2020

So Boggie Dog would you fly a 777? 789 and oh by the by some AB's also have similar engine/pylon designs. If you think the Max is the only one as well as it will be around in future designs