One of Cayman Airway’s two 737 Max 8 aircraft will depart Owen Roberts International Airport Monday for a Boeing maintenance facility in the US.

The journey comes two days after the Max 8, VP-CIW, aircraft successfully conducted an hour-long maintenance flight test on Saturday evening.

The plane departed Owen Roberts in an easterly direction; upon reaching Little Cayman, it turned around and returned to ORIA.

“The aircraft functioned perfectly in all respects and phases of flight,” said Fabian Whorms, CAL president and CEO.

Prior to the flight, the plane had been grounded in a Cayman Airways hangar for nearly a year. The flight attracted scores of onlookers who pulled off the road to watch the plane take off and touch down.

Flying the aircraft were Chief Pilot Captain Perry Panton and Captain Steven Coe, Cayman Airways manager of flight training and standards. Also on board as observers were Captain Lindsay Cadenhead of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands and Captain Tim Patterson from Boeing.

Saturday’s maintenance flight took place ahead of a “repositioning” flight to California to upgrade the aircraft before it can return to service, Whorms explained.

“The aircraft was functionally tested as part of its maintenance programme and to allow the aircraft to undertake a ferry flight to go to a facility in California to have upgrades accomplished in preparation for return to service later this year,” said Whorms.

Despite the positive flight, it is unclear when the Max 8 will return to service. The planes still require flight clearance from aviation authorities to return to the skies.

A global grounding of Max 8 planes remains in effect. Cayman Airways took its Max 8 planes out of operation in March last year following two fatal crashes – Lion Air near Jakarta, Indonesia, and Ethiopian Airlines outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – that claimed the lives of 346 people.

An investigation into the crashes revealed issues with Boeing’s MCAS system, which is designed to prevent a plane from stalling when a take-off angle is too steep. Although the MCAS system issue has been addressed, ongoing investigations into the safety of Max-8s had found other software-related problems with the planes.

On 1 Jan., the US Federal Aviation Authority, which is overseeing the investigations into the Boeing safety issues, stated that the latest documents submitted by the aircraft manufacturer have not pointed to any new “safety risks that were not already identified as part of the ongoing review of proposed modifications to the aircraft”.

Once the Max 8 reaches the US-based maintenance and storage facility, it will undergo some required work that will prepare the aircraft for return to service, which Whorms expects to occur later this year.

Although Cayman Airways’ Max 8s are grounded, the aviation authorities in Cayman and the US granted special licences to allow the plane to complete Saturday’s test flight, as well as Monday’s ferry trip. These flights are restricted to a limited-number of flight crew and other authorised personnel.

Additional reporting by
Reshma Ragoonath.

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