China to soon resume 737 MAX flights, but restoring market confidence is the challenge: expert
Published: Dec 03, 2021 10:58 AM
Boeing 737 Max airplanes sit parked at the company's production facility in Renton, Washington DC, the US on November 18. Photo: VCG

Boeing 737 Max airplanes sit parked at the company's production facility in Renton, Washington DC, the US on November 18. Photo: VCG

China is expected to resume 737 MAX flights by the end of this year or early next year, and the introduction of new aircraft will be restarted, China's civil aviation regulator said on Friday.

Chinese market watchers said the next step for Boeing is how to restore market confidence as Boeing 737 MAX in China was grounded for more than two years.

The green light from the regulator came after China's civil aviation regulator released an airworthiness directive on the grounded Boeing 737 MAX on Thursday, showing that the aircraft has won initial support from the agency.

Obtaining airworthiness approval is one of the most basic tasks. In the future, domestic airlines will have to complete aircraft modification, parked aircraft restoration and pilot training, Yang Zhenmei, an official from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said.

After supplementary operation certification, it can resume operations in China by the end of this year or early next year. Commercial operations of the existing fleet and a restart of new aircraft will also occur, Yang added.

"It is expected to resume commercial flights by the end of this year or beginning next year one after another, and restart the introduction of new aircraft," Yang said. 

The CAAC's decision is an important milestone toward safely returning the 737 MAX to service in China. Boeing continues to work with regulators and our customers to return the aircraft to service worldwide, Boeing said in a note sent to the Global Times on Friday. 

Chinese market watchers said the next step for Boeing is not on re-introducing aircraft in China, but how to win back market confidence, as restoring market confidence is not as simple as getting the certificate; it is connected with society's psychology.

Flying 30 to 50 MAX planes can help restore confidence slowly, Wang Yanan, chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Boeing's senior executives said they are eager to win back the Chinese market as soon as possible. Due to the global grounding of the 737 MAX after major air crashes and the impact of the epidemic on the civil aviation industry, Boeing delivered only 157 aircraft in 2020, and its production fell to its lowest level in nearly 50 years. 

China, the first country to ground nearly 100 737 MAX after two fatal accidents in half a year, has maintained that for the plane to resume commercial services, aircraft modifications must be approved for airworthiness, and pilots must be fully retrained to fly the model. The authority also demanded that the findings of investigations into the two fatal air tragedies must be made available and the defects, which caused the incidents, be addressed.

The CAAC said in the past two years it has maintained close technical cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing, and advanced the airworthiness certification of the 737 MAX aircraft in an orderly manner.

In August, the CAAC carried out flight tests on the 737 MAX in China, noted a request for public comment on airworthiness directives in November. 

Wang added that CAAC is also under heavy pressure to make the decision, because China decided to ground the aircraft first. 

The CAAC said the C919 airworthiness certification and the return of 737 MAX flights are two separate tasks.

Just as the 737 MAX must first obtain airworthiness approval from the FAA and then apply for airworthiness approval from the CAAC, when the C919 is introduced to the international market in the future, it must obtain an airworthiness approval from the CAAC, as well as from countries that accept it.

We will also fully support domestically made aircraft to fly around the world based on the needs of enterprises, Yang said.