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Transport Canada is the first foreign aviation regulatory authority to conclude validation testing on the Boeing 737 Max, which has been grounded worldwide since March 13, 2019.
From Aug. 23 to 25, Canadian flight test crews were flown to Seattle, Wash., where they completed evaluations in Boeing’s engineering simulator. They returned to Vancouver each evening, following safety measures implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Aug. 26 and 27, crews moved into the Max 7 test aircraft, performing a series of evaluation flights in U.S. airspace. According to Transport Canada, that is the same aircraft used to conduct testing by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration earlier in August.
“The Max 7, 8 and 9 all have the same underlying flight control architecture,” wrote Transport Canada spokesperson Sau Sau Liu in an email to Skies. “In other words, the three variants are very similar and use the same control systems that needed to be assessed as part of the test flights. This is why the Max 7 test aircraft adequately supported the evaluation test flights.”
Transport Canada is now analyzing the results of those tests. It will perform its own independent review to determine whether Boeing’s modifications address safety concerns which first came to light following two Max 8 crashes on Oct. 29, 2018 and March 10, 2019. A total of 346 people died in those accidents, prompting the type’s global grounding.
Investigations pointed to malfunctions with the plane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which Boeing has now upgraded to add “three additional layers of protection” as well as updates to the flight control software. Now, MCAS cannot be triggered by a single sensor and will not activate repeatedly, never providing “more input than the pilot can counteract using the control column alone,” said Boeing’s website. “Pilots will continue to have the ability to override MCAS at any time.”
A Transport Canada press release said its analysis will be completed by this fall. At that point, the regulator will participate in a Joint Operational Evaluation Board (JOEB), which will include representatives from global certification authorities.
“Transport Canada will not lift the flight restrictions on the Boeing 737 Max 8 until the department is fully satisfied that all safety concerns have been addressed by the manufacturer and the FAA, and that enhanced flight crew procedures and training are in place,” said Minister of Transport Marc Garneau.
The JOEB’s conclusions will establish the minimum training requirements for pilots – including time in a full-flight simulator – for the return to service of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration concluded its Max re-certification test flights on July 1. According to the The Seattle Times, “An extensive to-do list must be accomplished before the plane can receive clearance to fly passengers again, a milestone now expected no sooner than mid-September.”
Boeing delivered more than 370 Max aircraft to 47 customers through February 2019. Several hundred more have been built but not delivered, and these must be inspected by the FAA before airlines can take possession.
In the meantime, the situation is complicated even further by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dealt global air travel a severe blow, reducing the demand for airliners such as the 737 Max.