The US aviation regulator’s administrator flew the embattled jet earlier this week. Here’s the footage, and what he thought of it…
The FAA’s administrator, Steve Dickson, put the Boeing 737 MAX through its paces this week by completing a test flight of the type, fulfilling a promise to personally pilot the jet before the administration gives the green light for its return to service.
Dickson’s sortie lasted two hours and included several scenarios to demonstrate the proposed software and design changes to the aircraft’s automated flight control system.
When asked at the post-flight press conference whether his appearance in Seattle was simply a publicity stunt, Dickson replied: “This is not a publicity stunt, this is simply the fulfilment of a commitment and a promise that I made within my first few weeks at the FAA, and since I will ultimately be charged with making the decision on this aircraft before I am going to sign my name on the dotted line, I believe that it is important for me to lead from the front and be here to really see the nuts and bolts of how this process is being completed.”
According to Flightradar24 data, the jet, N7201S (c/n 42561), departed Seattle/Boeing Field at 8.51am local time, heading eastbound towards Coulee City where it is thought it then conducted several manoeuvres in various configurations. The aircraft then routed southbound and performed a missed approach at Moses Lake/Grant County Airport before returning to Boeing Field and landing at 10.42am.
Dickson commented: “It has been a productive and constructive week and I like what I saw on the flight this morning, but we are not to the point yet where we have completed the process.
“We still have some work to do yet, my flight today and the training I undertook gives me an excellent baseline as an aviator to be able to understand the systems and understand how they are being utilised on the flight deck and how the airplane performs.”
Commenting on the changes Boeing has made to the automated flight control system, Dickson added: “The flight today replicated the test conditions of the new design of the aircraft – it’s pretty limited because pitch augmentation systems are not a new thing on aircraft – so I got a chance to see how the new system performed and essentially it’s a much more benign system than the original design.”
Dickson made it clear that his flight was separate from the overall FAA mission to recertify the jet so it can return to service.
The administrator’s flight comes shortly after international aviation regulators including the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Transport Canada completed a series of test flights for the type. The FAA concluded its flight assessments in July.