Regulator test flight of Boeing 737 MAX delayed to May: sources

New York (AFP) –


A key test flight of the Boeing 737 MAX has been pushed back by a month to May due to the upheaval of the coronavirus crisis, two sources told AFP Tuesday.

The certification flight, overseen by the US Federal Aviation Administration, is a vital step in clearing the jet to resume service, and had been targeted for April.

The MAX has been grounded by regulators since March 2019 following two crashes that killed 346 people.

The new delay in restoring the plane to service comes as Boeing faces great financial pressure from loss of the top-selling aircraft as well as from the coronavirus, which has shuttered its US commercial plane manufacturing operations and devastated the financial outlook of its airline customers.

Boeing has been saying that it expected to receive regulatory approval to resume flights on the MAX in mid-2020, and a company spokesman confirmed that timeframe still holds.

An FAA spokesman said "work is still ongoing" on the MAX certification.

Social distancing policies enacted throughout the United States to address COVID-19 have forced teams from Boeing and the FAA to work remotely and posed challenges for the test flight itself because of the need for closer physical contact.

Even after the test flight, other hurdles remain. Officials also need to settle on pilot and crew training requirements for the upgraded MAX, which includes an update to a flight handling system implicated in fatal crashes of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines planes.