Boeing 737 MAX takes off on first certification test flight

FAA says flights will evaluate Boeing's proposed changes to the plane's automated flight control system

SEATTLE/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Boeing Co 737 MAX took off on Monday just before 1 p.m. EDT from a Seattle-area airport on the first day of certification flight testing with U.S. Federal Aviation Administration test pilots, a crucial moment in its worst-ever crisis.

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Boeing Flight 701 departed King County International Airport, which is also known as Boeing Field, a Reuters witness confirmed. 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.

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Boeing shares were up 7.8% at $183.31 on the news.

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
BABOEING COMPANY175.76+2.48+1.43%

Reuters first reported the long-awaited certification test flights were set to start on Monday and expected to last three days. The FAA said the flights will evaluate Boeing's proposed changes to the plane's automated flight control system.

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The FAA said it has not made a decision on return to service and still and has a number of additional steps before the plane will be allowed to return to commercial service.

A Boeing 737 MAX (Associated Press)

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.

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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. Boeing in recent months had to address additional software issues and agreed to move wiring bundles that the FAA said posed a potentially dangerous issue.

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(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Chris Reese and Matthew Lewis)