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Boeing 737 MAX Is Taking Steps Toward Flying in China Again

Air China’s first 737 MAX 8 taking off (Photo: Boeing)

Recently, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued a notice of inquiry to recertify Boeing 737MAX. The jet has been grounded in China for 20 months after two fatal crashes, one each in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Internal sources say Air China and China Southern are in the process of unsealing a number of Boeing 737 MAX. Once the jet is recertified and cleared to fly in China again, the largest carrier can quickly put the capacity into the Spring Festival travel rush.

Currently, 97 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are sealed in China and have been since the grounding of the jet. Over 100 jets are sitting at Boeing field, pending delivery to Chinese customers. Previously, Boeing CEO David Calhoun optimistically projected that the jet will receive Chinese authorities’ approval to fly again by the end of 2021.

A China Southern 737 MAX heads to storage in Everett, Wash. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

Uneasy to Fly Again

On the other hand, the CAAC emphasized its three key principles of approving the Boeing 737 MAX to fly again:

  1. Recertification of design change made on the aircraft;
  2. Adequate training for pilots, and regaining the confidence of pilots;
  3. Clear conclusion on the reasons attributed to the two fatal crashes, and valid redesigns to bridge the gaps identified;

In August, Boeing sent a 737 MAX 7 jet to China for a test flight before recertification of the jet. The public has viewed this action as significant progress for the Boeing 737 MAX to return to China. Boeing’s stock price fained after the successful test flight in China.

At the same time, Boeing shared on social media its latest livery on a Boeing 737 created by Boeing Zhoushan. This action was read as a symbol that Boeing’s Zhoushan facility is ready to use once the authority approves the jet to fly again.

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

Boeing opened its delivery center in Zhoushan, China in December 2018, striving to better serve its customers in the region, and leverage the strong manufacturing and supply chain capability of China. However, merely two jets were delivered to Chinese carriers before the grounding of the jet.

Airbus’s Steps Forward

As the rival of Boeing 737 MAX, Airbus’s A320 took a step further for its presence in China. Opened in 2008, Airbus’s Tianjin, China plant is producing A320 families for customers around East Asia. Nowadays, the plant is also serving as a finishing and delivery center for Airbus A350 XWB. The plant will be briefly closed in 2022 for renovation to expand its production capacity for Airbus A321.

During the grounding of Boeing 737MAX, the long-term Boeing-only airline Xiamen Airlines announced its plan to introduce 15 Airbus A321s into its fleet starting in January 2022. XiamenAir had added no new aircraft since March of 2019 when the 737 MAX was grounded. This action was widely perceived as the airline’s efforts to continue its growth of capacity to match the growth of China’s domestic market.

Long Way to Go

While Boeing is optimistic about the return of its 737 MAX in China soon, many variables still need to be settled. The amount of time to train the pilots and unseal a large number of aircraft is a huge effort for both airlines and Boeing.

Passenger confidence towards this aircraft is still relatively low compared to competitors of the 737 MAX. Finally, the political uncertainties between the two superpowers may also impact the approval for Boeing 737 MAX to fly again. At this time, Boeing still has a long way to go before it can have 737 MAX fly again in China.

Lei Yan


  • Lei Yan

    Lei is from Inner Mongolia, China, and now lives in Guangzhou. He grew up in an aviation family, where his passion began. During his time at Penn State University, he studied Industrial Engineering specializing in operations research, and he graduated with an honor’s thesis on airport gate assignment optimization. Now, he is a Purchasing Manager with Procter & Gamble. In his free time, he enjoys flying, reading, and wandering around the city.

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