Airlines

Boeing's next step in testing 737 Max: Operating it like an airline

Key Points
  • Boeing pilots are flying the 737 Max as part of the company's latest step in testing new software in the aircraft.
  • The flights are the latest indication Boeing may be getting close to a recertification flight.
  • The airplane was grounded in March of last year following the second of two Max crashes that killed 346 people.
An employee walks past a Boeing 737 Max aircraft seen parked at the Renton Municipal Airport in Renton, Washington, January 10, 2020.
Lindsey Wasson | Reuters

When a Boeing 737 Max flew into Kansas City's airport on Monday, it definitely drew some attention.

After all, the plane has been grounded since last March and while Max planes have been seen flying in a few places around the country as airlines repositioned their grounded fleet, this was different. This time, it was Boeing pilots flying the Max as part of the company's latest step in testing new software in the aircraft.

Boeing said it has begun flying a 737 Max plane with new software as a test to see how the plane functions when it is operated as a Max would be in an airline fleet. In a statement explaining the flights, the company said: "These non-commercial test flights with a small test team on board will exercise short and long-haul flights, seeking out weather and altitude conditions that will help satisfy specific test conditions for the updated software. These are not certification flights."

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The flights are the latest indication Boeing may be getting close to a recertification flight, a critical hurdle in convincing the FAA and other regulators to unground the Max. The airplane was grounded in March of last year after the second of two Max crashes that killed 346 people. Investigations later determined flight-control software known as MCAS, which was designed to keep the Max from stalling, was a primary factor in both planes crashing.

Since then, Boeing engineers have been working on fixing the MCAS software and on modifying pilot training and procedures so flight crews are prepared to fly the 737 Max. While modifications to the 737 Max software are being tested by Boeing, changes to pilot training have yet to be finalized and approved by regulators.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said at the Singapore air show that he believes the 737 Max certification flight could happen in the coming weeks.

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