When will Boeing 737 MAX be back in the skies?
Chinese aviation regulator says no timetable yet
Published: Apr 15, 2021 05:48 PM

The first Boeing 737 MAX 8 in Renton, Washington in December 2015 Photos: VCG

The first Boeing 737 MAX 8 in Renton, Washington in December 2015 Photos: VCG

US plane maker Boeing Co said on Tuesday it delivered a total of 77 aircraft in the first quarter, including a large order of 737 MAXs, accounting for more than 80 percent of all deliveries. 

The number has pumped up the ambitions for the manufacturer making the narrow body jet return to the skies in countries worldwide after years of being grounded. 

Despite the electrical issues in some jets recently exposed by the manufacturer, it is widely expected that Boeing is likely to continue high deliveries for the MAX, and more carriers in the world are clearing the ways for it to be back to the sky, and people wondering how far will the Boeing 737 MAX back to sky in China?

Xiamen Airlines told the Global Times that it is modifying its Boeing 737 MAX jets after Boeing issued technical guidelines for the carrier, a necessary preparation before the planes return to service.

The comment came after reports circulated online that Xiamen Airlines is preparing to return its 737 MAX fleet to service after years of being grounded.

Bloomberg reported on April 1 that state-owned China Eastern is negotiating with Boeing over a potential Max order.

But Xiamen Airlines said there is no timetable for the planes to return to service yet, and that the regulator has the final say, and China Eastern was reportedly of being cautioned of "great uncertainty" as to when deliveries would be allowed to resume.

Xiamen Airlines ordered 30 Boeing 737 MAX planes in March 2018, including 20 737-8 and 10 737-10 aircraft. Xiamen Airlines has 167 aircraft before the epidemic, making it one of the largest airlines in China. 

All of Xiamen Airlines' 10 737-8 planes are still parked in the western part of the country -- two in Lanzhou, Northwest China's Gansu Province, and eight in Yinchuan, Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

China was the first country to ground the Boeing 737 MAX in 2019. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) ordered all domestic carriers to stop flying the Boeing 737 MAX in March of 2019, after one crashed in Ethiopia, killing 157 people.

A total of 96 Boeing 737 MAX planes have stopped flying in China, including 24 from China Southern Airlines, 15 from Air China and 10 from Xiamen Airlines.

CAAC said there is no timetable for Boeing 737 Max 8 to return to service, and set three principles for the jet to return to service in China -- design changes need to be certified, pilots need to receive proper training, and effective improvements need to be made to address the specific findings of investigations into two fatal crashes.

Dong Zhiyi, deputy head of the CAAC, said in March that major safety concerns raised by China's civil aviation regulator over the 737 MAX had not been fully addressed, when asked about the timetable for the jet to return to service. 

An anonymous insider from CAAC told the Global Times that the regulator has not changed their attitude toward the issue.

Qi Qi, a market watcher told the Global Times on Wednesday that Chinese regulator has its pace to make the plane back to the sky, and it will not follow other countries blindly.

Chinese market

Boeing Co recently urged the US to keep human rights and other disputes separate from trade relations with Beijing, and warned European rival Airbus would gain if the US plane maker was locked out of China, according to Reuters.

Boeing Co Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun said he believed a major aircraft subsidy dispute with Europe could be resolved after 16 years of wrangling at the World Trade Organization, but contrasted this with the outlook on China.

"I think politically (China) is more difficult for this administration and it was for the last administration. But we still have to trade with our largest partner in the world: China," he said.

The remark has given a clear sign that Boeing is trying to win more market confidence from China as it has not received any orders from China for the MAX while former President Donald Trump was in office over the past four years. 

Boeing delivered only 157 aircraft in 2020, and its production fell to the lowest level in nearly 50 years. Its fiscal report showed that it was in loss of $11.9 billion and realized revenue of $58.1 billion. It's revenue saw a year-on-year decrease of 24 percent.

In comparison, Airbus delivered a total of 99 aircraft to Chinese clients, accounting for 17.5 percent of global deliveries. 

China's delivery volume rose from less than 6 percent of the global delivery volume in the first quarter to 25 percent in the fourth quarter of last year. In December alone, it completed a delivery of 26 aircraft in a single month, setting a historical record for the delivery of Chinese users in a single month, which "fully demonstrates the strong recovery momentum of China's civil aviation market," according to the note the company sent to the Global Times.