News Briefs – June 29, 2020

Flight testing for Boeing’s 737 Max could begin June 29

Flight-certification testing for Boeing’s 737 Max, which has been grounded since March 2019 because of two deadly crashes, could begin as early as June 29, according to an Federal Aviation Administration email sent Sunday to congressional oversight committees.
The company needs clearance from the FAA before the planes can fly again, and the test flights, with FAA test pilots, are a key step. They would take several days and would evaluate Boeing’s proposed changes to the automated flight control system on the Max.
The flight control system, triggered by faulty readings from sensors, pushed the planes into nosedives that led to crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing 346 people.
Even if no new problems are discovered during the test flights, it’s likely to take at least a month to get pilots trained and get mothballed planes upgraded, inspected and serviced. The FAA has to sign off on Boeing’s pilot-training program, and a panel of international regulators will comment on minimum pilot training too.
Boeing said it deferred to the FAA and global regulators on the Max certification process.
Nearly 400 Max planes had been delivered to airlines before they were grounded, and Boeing has built several hundred more. AP

NORAD intercepts two Russian aircraft that came near Alaska

Two Russian aircraft that came within 50 miles of Unimak Island along Alaska’s Aleutian chain were intercepted late June 24, military officials said June 25.
The incident marked the fifth time this month that such an intercept has taken place, Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said in a release.
NORAD said the Russian aircraft did not enter U.S. or Canadian airspace during the roughly four-hour flight in the region. The Russian planes were identified as IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft.
Capt. Cameron Hillier, a NORAD spokesperson, said this is the ninth such incident off Alaska or Canada this year. He said all the interactions are “safe and professional.”
Since Russia resumed long-range aviation activities in 2007, there has been an average of around seven intercepts a year, though the number in any given year has been zero to 15, Hillier said. AP

Spirit AeroSystems extends furloughs for about 900 workers

Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas, is extending a temporary layoff of about 900 employees as it grapples with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX
About 900 employees who were on a three-week furlough that was to end in early July will now be unemployed until Aug. 14, The Wichita Eagle reported.
They will continue to receive health care benefits and pension contributions throughout the furlough period.
Spirit AeroSystems said the extension it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the machinists union in Wichita for the extension.
The union worked with Spirit officials in an attempt to make the furloughs easier on the employees, said union spokesman Scott Gardner. Taking one long furlough period is potentially better for workers rather than waiting for possibly a second furlough in the future, and having to re-apply for unemployment benefits, he said.
The agreement says the furlough extension isn’t meant to completely prevent layoffs, but is intended to reduce the number of permanent layoffs. AP

FAA orders fix for engine covers of Boeing 737 Max planes

U.S. safety officials will require all Boeing 737 Max airliners to be inspected for a manufacturing defect on engine coverings that they say could lead to loss of power during flights.
Inspections and repairs, if needed, will be required before the grounded planes are allowed to fly again, according to a notice posted June 24 by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The problem is not related to the flight-control system that pushed planes into nosedives before two deadly Max crashes. The crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people.
However, it is another blow to Boeing’s safety reputation.
A spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing said the company recommended the inspections in December and has been working with airline customers to make sure the engine coverings are protected from electrical energy.
All Max planes have been grounded since March 2019, and it is not clear whether the engine-covering defect will further push back Boeing’s goal of getting the planes back in the sky this year. The company needs clearance from the FAA before the planes can fly again.
In ordering the inspections, the FAA is finalizing a proposed order issued in February. At that time, FAA said the engine coverings, called nacelles, could be vulnerable to lightning strikes. The FAA agreed with Boeing’s request to delete lightning as a threat, but it said strong electromagnetic fields could cause loss of power or faulty readings in the cockpit because of inadequate shielding around wiring.
The FAA will require inspection of parts called fairing panels. According to published reports, workers polishing the carbon composite engine pods ground off some layers of metal foil that are needed to shield wiring. The FAA said any “excessively reworked panels” must be replaced.
The FAA estimated the work could take five to 12 hours per plane. It said Boeing will cover all costs because the planes are still under warranty.
The FAA order affects 128 Max jets registered to U.S. airlines American, Southwest and United. AP

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