U.S. regulators carried out the first Boeing 737 MAX test flight on Monday, an important step towards recertifying the jet, which has been on the ground for more than a year after two fatal crashes.
A MAX aircraft took off from Boeing Field in Seattle in 1655 GMT, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The test took several hours and involved two take-offs and landings before landing according to an AFP photographer at around 2115 GMT.
The first flight will be followed by more trips, which are expected to take three days, the FAA spokesman said in a statement.
Although certification flights are a critical phase, the regulator emphasized that the process of returning what was once the best-selling aircraft to the sky has not yet been completed.
"While the certification flights are an important milestone, there are still some important tasks left," said the FAA spokesman, adding that the agency will be "deliberate" and "thoroughly review Boeing's work" before the aircraft can be put back into service .
"We will not lift the grounding order until we are satisfied that the aircraft meets certification standards."
MAX has been discontinued worldwide since March 13, 2019 after 157 people were killed at Ethiopian Airlines. This disaster occurred just a few months after a Lion Air MAX crash that killed 189 people.
The worrying similarities between the two accidents, both of which occurred shortly after take-off, and the inability of pilots to regain control of the aircraft prompted global aviation authorities to ground the model indefinitely.
For months, the American aerospace giant has been fighting to put the medium-haul aircraft – previously Boeing's largest source of orders for commercial aircraft – back into operation.
The MAX anti-stall flight system, the MCAS, was partially responsible for both crashes. Other technical issues, including one with electrical wiring, were later discovered during the aircraft's change process, which slowed down recertification.
Boeing's shares opened significantly higher on Monday and continued to rise after it was announced that the flight had started. They closed at $ 194.49, up 14.4 percent, and led the Dow.
Delay after delay
Civil aviation authorities can only approve the modified model after examining the performance in the air and examining the thousands of data points collected during the test flights.
In addition, Boeing still has to develop pilot training protocols for the MAX, which are subject to public comment and a final review by a technical advisory board.
All MAX aircraft manufactured since the crashes must also be personally inspected by FAA employees, the agency says.
"The FAA has made no decision to resume service," the agency said.
A few months ago, Boeing expected the MAX to return to heaven in mid-2020. But the coronavirus pandemic, which led to travel restrictions and blocking measures to slow the spread, disrupted the schedule.
Boeing has to put the 737 MAX back in the air to free itself from a historic crisis.
The aircraft accounts for more than two-thirds of the company's order backlog, and is critical to the survival of the manufacturer, who, like the entire aerospace industry, is suffering from the effects of the coronavirus crisis.
The company has already made cuts to support its finances. At the end of April, Boeing published details of a downsizing plan aimed at reducing the total number of employees by 10 percent, or a total of around 16,000 employees.
In March, the rating agency S & P downgraded Boeing's debt from A- to BBB and classified it in a speculative category.
Additional changes to the MAX that are expected to be requested by foreign aviation authorities could also result in significant program costs.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)