Seattle: The newest version of Boeing's 737 MAX model airplane took to the skies of the US state of Washington on Friday in an attempt to improve the model's reputation.
The 737 MAX 10's initial flight was about 2.5 hours long, taking off from Renton Municipal Airport, just south of Seattle, and landing at Boeing Field, about 7 miles away. The flight came after months of testing and safety certification.
"The airplane performed beautifully. The profile we flew allowed us to test the airplane's systems, flight controls and handling qualities, all of which checked out exactly as we expected,” said Chief Pilot Jennifer Henderson in a statement.
American carrier United Airlines has put 100 Boeing 737 MAX 10 planes on order. The new model is expected to enter service in 2023 after more safety tests and inspections.
Boeing's new airplane can carry up to 230 passengers and is longer than previous models of the 737 MAX. However, it has a lower flying range than earlier versions, only being able to travel about 3,300 nautical miles (3,800 miles).
Sparse crowd, still hurt by crashes
The first flight was witnessed by dozens of Boeing employees, but almost no outside visitors as Boeing downplayed the event.
The 737 MAX model came under intense criticism after two crashes involving the MAX 8 killed 346 people. The crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019, both involved 737 MAX 8 planes that were in service for just a few months.
They both crashed minutes after takeoff, and both deadly incidents were induced by several design flaws, including the faulty Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) safety system on the 737 MAX 8. The MCAS forced the airplane's nose down during takeoff on both flights due to a faulty reading.
Boeing 737 MAX planes were grounded worldwide just days after the Ethiopian Airlines crash. Boeing's reputation and pocketbook were hit after several orders for MAX planes were canceled. Boeing paid millions of dollars in compensation to the families of the victims on the ill-fated flights. The company posted an $8.4 billion (€7.1 billion) loss last year due to the reduced demand for planes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company was also forced to pay billions of dollars in fines to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this year for defrauding regulators.
Boeing's 737 MAX 8 model was grounded until November 2020, when US regulators allowed the jet to resume service. Most other aviation bodies followed suit. American carriers Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, as well as Iceland flag carrier Icelandair and European discount airline Ryanair all use Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal said Boeing was working on safety enhancements for the 737 MAX 10.
"We're going to take our time on this certification,” said Deal.