Boeing 737 Max 10 takes a key step toward FAA certification

The final version of the 737 Max, the Max 10, takes off in 2021 from Renton Airport in Renton, Wash. on its first flight. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times/TNS)

The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday granted Boeing approval to begin flight tests of its 737 Max 10 jet with FAA pilots on board. It’s a key step that allows the FAA to gather flight data for certification of the airplane.

In an internal message to employees, Mike Fleming, Boeing vice president who leads its commercial aircraft development programs, celebrated the move forward in what has been an unprecedented slow process — one that still has a long way to go.


“This is a significant milestone as we work to get the 737-10, the largest airplane in the 737 Max family, certified to enter passenger service with operators around the world,” Fleming wrote.

Fleming’s message notes that Boeing test pilots have completed more than 400 flights and nearly 1,000 flight hours on the Max 10 and the jet “has performed well.”

However, it’s only when FAA pilots are on board to conduct the tests that the flights and the data gathered count toward certification.

FAA approval for the final two models of the 737 Max jet family — the smallest, the Max 7, and the largest, the Max 10 — to fly passengers has been long delayed as the safety agency applies rigorous testing standards mandated by Congress after the two Max crashes that killed 346 people.

The initial Max models, the Max 8 and Max 9, were certified and in service when the Max 7 first flew in March 2018. The Max 10 had its first flight in June 2021.

Before the crashes, formal certification that grants approval to fly passengers typically would have been expected within a year of those milestones.

The crashes in October 2018 and March 2019 grounded the Max worldwide and suspended the certification process, which was then further derailed in 2020 by the pandemic.

Both the Max 7 and Max 10 models faced new testing requirements after Congress in the final days of 2020 passed the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act to improve oversight.

That legislation added strict new tests in the FAA certification process. Boeing has to demonstrate that the aircraft systems will be safe under a wide range of pilot reactions to emergencies.

Documenting all the ways inexperienced pilots might react to every potential failure and proving the system nevertheless safe has slowed the process massively.

The Max 7 was the first plane to go through this new test regime. It completed all its FAA flight tests in 2021. The FAA is reviewing the final documentation, and Boeing is hopeful the agency will certify the plane by year-end or early 2024.

With Boeing having gained the detailed knowledge of exactly what’s required on the Max 7, certification of the Max 10 should be faster. Still, it will be slower than was the norm before the crashes.

The Max 10 is not expected to be certified until late 2024. Industry sources told trade magazine Aviation Week in October it likely won’t enter service with airlines until 2025.

The painstaking certification process for these last two Max models would have been more extended if Congress had not granted these two aircraft a specific exemption to one requirement in the 2020 legislation.

In late 2022, Congress passed an amendment allowing the Max 7 and Max 10 to be certified without installing a state-of-the-art system that alerts the crew when something goes wrong in flight.

Adding a complete modern crew-alerting system to the last two models of this plane — the original 737 was designed more than 50 years ago — was deemed too expensive and possibly less safe.

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