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CAAC Provides No Date For 737 MAX Recertification In China

An Air China 737 MAX 8 (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

The Boeing 737 MAX has obtained clearance by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to resume commercial flight in the U.S., but this doesn’t mean its problems are over. In fact — while in the past an FAA approval was almost automatically endorsed by other regulators around the world to allow commercial operations almost anywhere on earth — some regulators have decided they will need to perform their own test before allowing the aircraft type back into their skies after issues with the FAA’s relationship with Boeing emerged during the investigation into the accident that led to the Boeing 737 MAX grounding in March 2019.

Even though the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in Europe, as well as Transport Canada, have clearly expressed that the aircraft will be allowed to return to service sometime around the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021, the road appears very long before it is possible to see the 97 Boeing 737 MAX owned by Chinese carriers back in the air. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has not released yet any estimate on when the recertification process may be completed.

Three Requirements to Be Satisfied

On Nov. 19, the Chinese regulator stated on state television that all Boeing 737 MAX will be returned to service when the three key requirements laid out in October are fulfilled, reported Flightglobal. These are:

  1. All changes made to the aircraft need to be approved, safe and reliable;
  2. All pilots need to be fully trained; and
  3. A clear outcome needs to be identified from the investigation of the two accidents that led to the global grounding.

The two accidents are the crash of a Lion Air flight in Indonesia in November 2018 that killed 189 people and the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight in March 2019 that claimed 157 lives.

In October, CAAC chief Feng Zhenglin told reporters that as long as the 737 MAX met these criteria, China would be “happy” to lift its grounding.

A Necessary Step

The sign-off from the Chinese authorities is critical to the success of Boeing’s troubled model for a number of reasons.

China was the first country that grounded the Boeing 737 MAX following the two crashes. But more importantly, the Chinese market is arguably the most important in today’s aviation landscape. In 2015 and 2016, China was the most important export market for Boeing, CNN reports, but no orders have been recorded from China in the past two years, and the Seattle-based company is eager to move the scoreboard.

China has recently overtaken the U.S. as the biggest domestic aviation market in the world, with six of the 20 busiest routes in the world being Chinese domestic routes. There are also more than a dozen carriers operating nationally in China, each eager to cater to a market that until 2019 was growing at almost 10% a year.

The CAAC has reported that in October domestic traffic reached 50.3 million passengers, 88% of the level reached in 2019. This is despite the fact that air traffic almost came to a halt in February due to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the government to impose lockdown measures that prevented millions of people from leaving their homes for weeks.

Vanni Gibertini


  • Vanni Gibertini

    Vanni fell in love with commercial aviation during his undergraduate studies in Statistics at the University of Bologna, when he prepared his thesis on the effects of deregulation on the U.S. and European aviation markets. Then he pursued his passion further by obtaining a Master’s Degree in Air Transport Management at Cranfield University in the U.K. followed by holding several management positions at various start-up carriers in Europe (Jet2, SkyEurope, Silverjet). After moving to Canada, he was Business Development Manager for IATA for nine years before turning to his other passion: sports writing.

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