Boeing 737 MAX begins key certification test flights

SEATTLE/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Boeing Co 737 MAX took off on Monday at 12:55 p.m. EDT (0955 PDT/1655 GMT) from a Seattle-area airport on the first day of certification flight testing with U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and company test pilots, a crucial moment in the planemaker’s worst-ever crisis.

Boeing Flight 701 departed King County International Airport, which is also known as Boeing Field, the FAA confirmed, saying it will conduct three days of tests. The plane is scheduled to land two hours later at Moses Lake airport, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

The plane is then scheduled to depart Moses Lake soon afterward, arriving back in Seattle at 1:22 p.m. PDT.

Boeing shares were up 10% at $186.86 on the news.

Reuters first reported the long-awaited certification test flights were set to start on Monday.

The FAA said on Monday the flights will “evaluate Boeing’s proposed changes to the automated flight control system on the 737 MAX” and “will include a wide array of flight maneuvers and emergency procedures to assess whether the changes meet FAA certification standards.”

The agency said it will take the time needed “to thoroughly review Boeing’s work. We will lift the grounding order only after we are satisfied that the aircraft meets certification standards.”

Boeing’s best-selling 737 MAX has been grounded since March 2019 after two fatal crashes killed 346 people. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the airplane’s certification.

After the flights are completed, the FAA must still approve new pilot training procedures, among other reviews, and would not likely approve the plane’s ungrounding until September, sources said.

If that happens, the jet is on a path to resume U.S. service before year-end, though the process has been plagued by delays for more than a year.

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