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China Southern Airlines Boeing 737 MAX jet

China Slow to Restore 737 MAX Flights

July 10, 2022
Random test flights by Chinese airlines draw attention to the fact that operators there have not returned the Boeing aircraft to regular service six months after regulators allowed scheduled flights to resume.

An Air China Boeing 737 MAX 8 last week completed a 48-minute test flight, the first indication in several weeks that Chinese airlines are moving to implement the required updates and test procedures to return the aircraft to regular service. Another 737 MAX operator, China Southern Airlines, conducted several test flights during June, but progress in returning the 737 MAX series to service in China remains slow.

In the U.S., Europe, and the rest of the world, 737 MAX aircraft are in service on hundreds of schedule flights every day.

Resuming deliveries to Chinese customers is considered important to Boeing regaining some financial stability. About 25% of all 787 MAX orders have been to carriers and leasing companied operating in China, according to reports.

Investors and analysts have speculated that the 737 MAX’s slow return to service in China is a negotiating strategy by China to gain progress over U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports. In May, Boeing CFO Brian West predicted the 737 MAX would resume service in China soon – but that progress had been delayed by stringent COVID protocols still in place in many parts of that country.

In December 2021, China’s civil aerospace regulator cleared airlines to resume their operations with the Boeing 737 MAX, roughly a year after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other such bodies in Canada, Europe, Brazil, and elsewhere recertified the aircraft’s flight-worthiness. The twin-engine, narrow-body jet – Boeing’s best-selling aircraft – had been grounded worldwide from March 2019 to November 2020 – as a result of two fatal accidents attributed to the flight control software overriding the crews’ actions.

Boeing halted all 737 MAX deliveries in March 2019, though production of new aircraft continued. The OEM continues to have a backlog of undelivered aircraft, including to Chinese customers. For example, Air China is due to take delivery of 18 new 737 MAX jets, in addition to 16 it has in its fleet but not operating.

When the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) issued the airworthiness directive that cleared the way for 737 MAX aircraft to resume service, it mandated that carriers complete the flight-control software updates and design changes that Boeing implemented after more than a year of investigation, as well as proper training for air crews. The CAAC requirements are comparable to those adopted by FAA, the European Air Safety Administration, and other regulators after November 2020.