On Wednesday, low-cost Czech carrier Smartwings performed a just over 2-hour long test flight of one of its Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. The plane took off at 12.22 from Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport and landed back again at 14.38.
One of the first airlines to receive the MAX
The two-year-old plane, that has not seen much action since being grounded for a little over a year, was taken for a spin in a southeasterly direction over the city of Brno. It traveled in a square-like pattern, turning northwest again to return to the Czech capital. It is still unclear exactly why the flight was undertaken.
Smartwings took delivery of the now grounded aircraft on the 31st of January 2018. It was one of the first airlines in the world to receive the new model. It now owns seven Boeing 737 MAXs, with an order for another 32 to be delivered over the next four years.
Boeing’s own test flights
Boeing has itself been flying a 737 MAX around the US with test crews and no passengers on board to prepare for the aircraft’s return to service. The manufacturer is regularly testing the updates it has made to the plane before it is examined by regulators.
In its latest statement on the eventual return of the aircraft back into service, issued on the 21st of January, Boeing estimated that the plane would be ungrounded somewhere around the middle of the year. The company said that this was informed by its experience to date with the certification process. While a recertification flight might not be far away, Boeing also said that:
“It is subject to our ongoing attempts to address known schedule risks and further developments that may arise in connection with the certification process. It also accounts for the rigorous scrutiny that regulatory authorities are rightly applying at every step of their review of the 737 MAX’s flight control system and the Joint Operations Evaluation Board process which determines pilot training requirements.”
Software updates and training upgrades
Boeing has been working on an update to the plane’s software system as well as implementing and upgrading its pilot training for the plane. On the 7th of January this year, according to CNBC news, it recommended that all pilots undergo simulation training before the plane is released back into service.
Investigators found that a malfunctioning software system that caused the plane’s nose to point repeatedly downward, along with some errors by the crew, was behind two lethal crashes that caused the MAX to be taken out of the skies. Both of these amendments will need to be approved by regulators before it will be allowed to fly again.
The MAX family
The MAX 8 is the most popular model of the 737 MAX family. It made its first flight on the 29th of January 2016 and entered passenger service with Malaysia’s Malindo Air on the 22nd of May in 2017. It’s designed for short- and medium-haul flights but it also has the range to fly transatlantic routes and between mainland US and Hawaii. Compared with previous models of the 737, the MAX’s engines sit farther forward and higher up on the underwing pylons.