By Siddharth Philip / Bloomberg
Boeing’s grounded 737 Max jet took a major step toward a return to flying after Europe’s air-safety regulator said it would send pilots to Canada to conduct test flights, overcoming Covid 19-related travel curbs.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency will carry out the certification flights from Vancouver in the week of Sept. 7, EASA said Thursday. The tests will be preceded by simulator sessions in the U.K. this coming week.
The breakthrough gets around health-related U.S. travel restrictions that have frustrated efforts to assess Boeing’s fixes to the Max, which was idled worldwide after two deadly crashes. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration conducted certification flights two months ago, followed by Canada this week.
“While Boeing still has some final actions to close off, EASA judges the overall maturity of the re-design process is now sufficient to proceed to flight tests,” the agency said in a statement, adding that the step is a “prerequisite” for it to approve the Max’s new design.
Boeing shares rose as much as 5.5%, and were up 3.2% at $177.46 as of 10:14 a.m. in New York. They had dropped 47% this year through Wednesday, the sharpest decline on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Travel restrictions have complicated Boeing’s efforts to work with regulators at home and abroad to certify the Max to resume commercial service.
Transport Canada’s flight-test team is traveling to and from Seattle each day to conduct validation tests in U.S. airspace. Unlike that process, EASA’s flights will begin in Vancouver, the European agency said.
With the three authorities’ individual tests out of the way, a set of collective examinations related to training requirements — known as a Joint Operations Evaluation Board — is set to take place at Gatwick airport south of London in the week beginning Sept. 14.
“Provided all goes well, fears that there could be a long lag between certification in the U.S. and the rest of the world are proving unfounded,” said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. “Things are moving in the right direction and a return to service late this year is still conceivable.”
The Max, the latest version of Boeing’s workhorse 737 series, was grounded worldwide in March 2019 after the two crashes killed 346 people.
After reviewing the results of the flights and Boeing’s detailed plan for revising systems blamed for the tragedies, the FAA on Aug. 3 said it had tentatively approved the fixes.
The public were given 45 days to comment on the proposed changes, meaning the agency could sign off on the return sometime in the fall.
In addition to changes to the plane’s computer systems and wiring, the FAA and regulators in other nations are reviewing revisions to pilot training programs.