DALLAS (AFP) – The Boeing 737 MAX took another big step towards commercial service on Wednesday after American Airlines completed a test flight with journalists as the airline industry seeks to reassure the public following a 20-month grounding of the jet.
The promotional flight, which included AFP among other media, departed near 1610 GMT from Dallas and landed and landed about 50 minutes later in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after encountering some turbulence along the way.
In Tulsa, American’s teams of mechanics, technicians and engineers outlined their processes for readying and upgrading the jets following the lengthy grounding. Pilots were also on hand to explain new training protocols required by federal air safety officials.
The MAX had been a cash cow for Boeing prior to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes that together claimed 346 lives. Those calamities plunged the aerospace giant into a crisis worsened by the coronavirus and its devastating impact on commercial air travel.
After the lengthy grounding following two deadly crashes, the United States (US) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in mid-November cleared the MAX to return to service following upgrades to the plane and pilot training protocols.
Brazilian authorities also okayed the MAX to fly again, while European officials are expected to approve the MAX’s return by the end of January 2021. China remains the main mystery as far as when it expects the MAX to fly again.
American Airlines plans an initial commercial flight on December 29.
The carrier is undertaking a charm offensive to reassure consumers the jet is safe. On Tuesday, American’s Chief Executive Doug Parker along with his wife took a flight on a MAX.
Three more test flights with employees are planned before the first commercial flight, an American spokesperson told AFP. FAA Chief Steve Dickson described the process for recertifying the jet as exhaustive when he officially approved the jet’s return.
Dickson himself piloted a test flight and said last month he was “100 per cent comfortable” with having his family fly in the jet.
Investigations identified a principle cause of the two crashes as a faulty flight handling system that was supposed to keep the plane from stalling as it ascended but instead forced the nose of the plane downward.
The FAA required Boeing to upgrade the software connected to this system to address
Boeing also plans to establish an operations centre to monitor MAX flights in real time.