Boeing is flying the 737 Max around the US with test crews and no passengers to prepare for the plane's return

ReutersBoeing 727 Max planes.
  • Boeing is preparing for the return of the 737 Max by flying it around the US with a test crew and no passengers on board.
  • The manufacturer is testing its updates to the plane before they are examined by regulators to see if the plane should return to the skies after two fatal crashes killed 346 people.
  • Boeing said it is testing non-commercial flights, both short and long-haul, to see how its updated software reacts before the US Federal Aviation Administration conducts test flights as part of its re-approval process.
  • The FAA said last week that the test flight could be done in the next few weeks, but later said it is not operating on a fixed timeline.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Boeing is flying a 737 Max plane around the US with a test crew on board to test its software updates to the jet as it prepares for its return to the skies.

In a statement to CNBC, Boeing said it was flying one 737 Max plane to see how the plane functions with the updates.

“These non-commercial test flights with a small test team on board will exercise short and long-haul flights, seeking out weather and altitude conditions that will help satisfy specific test conditions for the updated software.”

The planes have been grounded around the world since March, after a second crash involving one of the planes, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, killed all 157 people on board.

A Lion Air Boeing 737 Max had previously crashed in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302Jemal Countess/Getty ImagesAn investigator with the US National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) looks over debris at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 on March 12, 2019 in Bishoftu, Ethiopia.

Investigations into the crashes found that the plane’s automated anti-stall software system, MCAS, malfunctioned and caused the plane’s nose to point repeatedly downward, plunging the plane towards the earth.

This, as well as some crew error, caused the crashes, investigators signalled in preliminary and final reports.

Boeing has been working on an update to the plane’s software system, as well as changes to pilot training, since. Both need to be approved by regulators before the plane can fly again.

The US Federal Aviation Administration is yet to conduct a test flight with its own pilots.

Boeing made it clear to CNBC that its test flights were not these flights.

“These are not certification flights,” Boeing said.

Boeing 737 Max planesDavid Ryder/Getty ImagesUndelivered Boeing 737 Max planes sit idle at a Boeing property in Seattle, Washington, in August 2019.

The Max plane used for testing has landed in Lincoln, Nebraska before flying to Kansas City International Airport and then on to Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, on Monday, Nebraska’s Omaha World-Herald reported.

The plane also flew between Boeing Field and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Saturday, the outlet reported, citing flight tracking websites.

The FAA said it still does not have a fixed timeline for test flights, and when it expects to allow the plane to fly again.

Administrator Steve Dickson told reporters on Tuesday: “We are following a very diligent process and it is important that we stay focused on the process and not on the timeline,” Reuters reported.

He called the certification flight the “next major milestone” in getting the plane back in the sky.

“Having said that we are approaching a milestone: the certification flight is the next major milestone and once that is completed I think we will have a good bit more clarity on where the process goes forward from there,” he said.

He said the FAA’s test flight “is not scheduled yet because we still have a few issues to resolve, but we continue to narrow the issues. We are waiting for proposals from Boeing on a few items.”

On Thursday he had said that the flight could come in the next few weeks.

Steve Dickson FAAJon Gambrell/AP PhotoFederal Aviation Administration administrator Steve Dickson in November 2019.

The FAA could rule that more work is required after the test flight but even if it doesn’t the FAA and other regulators still need to rule on pilot training and certify other documents.

In the meantime, Boeing is haemorrhaging millions of dollars as order numbers fall amid the crisis.

Airlines around the world are also losing money during the grounding after seeing orders delayed, having to maintain planes stuck on the ground, and having to cancel flights and even entire routes as the plane is stuck on the ground.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.