New York (AFP)

The Boeing 737 MAX could make its first certification flight on Monday, a crucial step for the survival of the star aircraft of the American aeronautical giant, grounded for 14 months.

On Friday, two sources familiar with the matter told AFP that the theft could take place "from the start of next week".

Neither Boeing nor the aviation regulator, the FAA, wanted to confirm information of a first flight on Sunday.

"We are continuing to work diligently to return the 737 MAX to service. We defer to the FAA and international regulators on the process," only a Boeing spokesman for AFP said on Sunday.

The 737 MAX has been grounded since March 13, 2019 after the accident of a copy of the Ethiopian Airlines company that left 157 dead. This tragedy came just months after the Lion Air MAX disaster, which killed 189 people.

The disturbing similarities between the two fatal accidents, shortly after takeoff, with an inability of the pilots to regain control of the aircraft, had led aviation safety authorities around the world to ban the entire fleet from flying. an indefinite period.

For months, the American aeronautical giant has been struggling to return to service its medium-haul, whose sales were before this crisis its main source of income.

The MCAS anti-stall software was implicated in the two accidents. However, other technical malfunctions, including one concerning electrical wiring, were subsequently detected during work on modifications to the device, slowing down the recertification process.

For weeks, the aircraft manufacturer has been waiting for the green light from the authorities to prove with test flights that the modifications carried out provide maximum safety.

- Boeing field -

Civil aviation authorities can only approve the modified version of the aircraft after examining how the aircraft behaves in flight. They will also examine the thousands of data collected during these flights.

For this reason, flight tests are scheduled for three days, according to the New York Times.

They will take place from Boeing Field, not far from Seattle, the birthplace of the legendary manufacturer, in Washington State.

The weather is often capricious but the forecast shows only partly cloudy weather, little wind and a 10% chance of precipitation on Monday.

According to the New York Times, an FAA pilot will be in control to test the machine modifications and a Boeing test pilot will also be on board.

In general, these flights are carefully prepared.

- Delay on delay -

Boeing expected a few months ago that the MAX would return to service in mid-2020, that is, in June.

But the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in travel restrictions and the confinement of workers, came to thwart his schedule.

According to the Seattle Times, European and Canadian aviation safety authorities have also demanded "further substantial changes to the flight control system".

"However, regulators have agreed that Boeing will be required to make these additional design changes (...) only after the MAX is returned to service," the American newspaper wrote.

Questioned by AFP on this information, a spokesman for Boeing assured Friday that safety was "the top priority" of the group.

"We are committed to answering all questions from regulators and meeting all certification and regulatory requirements," he added.

For Boeing, it is urgent to fly his plane to get out of a historic crisis.

This aircraft represents more than two thirds of its order book. It is therefore central to the medium-term survival of the aircraft manufacturer, which, like all air transport, is suffering from the Covid-19 crisis.

At the end of April, it announced the reduction of 10% of its workforce, or 16,000 jobs. S&P had immediately downgraded its financial strength rating from A- to BBB, now relegating it to a notch in the speculative category.

Additional fixes required by foreign authorities could add substantial costs to the MAX program.

They could also slow the ramp-up in deliveries that Boeing needs to replenish its cash flow.

© 2020 AFP