A Chinese airline on Friday conducted a passenger flight for the first time in nearly four years with a Boeing 737 Max, the offending plane that had to stay on the ground for a long time after two serious crashes.
It is an important moment for the American aircraft manufacturer. Boeing can now hope for a return to China, the most important market for aircraft after North America. Boeing faces major competition from Airbus there and elsewhere.
The European planemaker delivered many more planes than Boeing in 2022 (661 vs. 480) and has been the world’s largest planemaker for four years now.
Boeing’s backlog is primarily due to the forced blockade of the aircraft that should remain its bestseller for years to come, the 737 Max (and due to production problems with the larger 787 Dreamliner). The 737 Max was grounded worldwide following fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019. Crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, caused by a failure in electronic pilot support, killed a total of 346 people.
In late 2020, the US Federal Aviation Administration gave permission to fly the 737 Max again after Boeing made various improvements to the plane and improved pilot training. Supervisors in Europe and elsewhere soon followed. Now the 737 Max flies almost everywhere, except in Russia.
From Guangzhou to Zhengzhou
The Chinese aviation authorities stated in November 2021 that Boeing had made the necessary adjustments satisfactorily. Passenger flights may resume in late 2021 or early 2022.
It ultimately lasted until Friday, according to the website FlightRadar24, which charts aircraft movements. At 12:45 local time, a China Southern Airlines Boeing 737 Max took off from the plane from Guangzhou (southern China). After about two and a half hours, the plane landed in Zhenzhou, in the middle of the country.
Boeing and China Southern have not yet commented on the return of the 737 Max. The American manufacturer refers to the airline, but it remained silent. Chinese state media company CCTV said on Friday that the resumption of flights shows that Boeing has met all the conditions of the Chinese regulator.
Chinese airlines can probably use the 737 Max aircraft that they have, but which have not yet been allowed to fly. Since the Chinese authorities lifted strict Covid 19 restrictions, demand for domestic and overseas travel has increased.
Friday’s flight will give Boeing new hope that the American manufacturer may be able to deliver the plane to Chinese customers as early as this year. Airlines such as China Southern, China Eastern and Air China were major customers. Boeing had sold 97 of the 737 Max in China before they were grounded. China Southern is the largest customer; the company has already ordered 50 737 Max aircraft.
Also read: Supply problems hurt Airbus and Boeing: The planes can be built, but the engines are not there
Boeing said in October that 138 more planes for Chinese airlines are awaiting delivery. The American manufacturer also stated that it had started offering devices to other customers. Boeing management did not expect to be able to deliver the aircraft to Chinese customers in the near term. That may have changed since Friday’s flight.
Two things play in the background. Boeing says it is deeply troubled by the strained political and economic relations between China and the United States. It also affects companies in the chip industry, such as Dutch AMSL.
Partly for political reasons, Xiamen Airlines, a subsidiary of China Southern, would have decided last summer to completely switch from Boeing to Airbus aircraft. Xiamen Airlines ordered 40 A320neo aircraft.
China also hopes to develop its own aircraft industry. Last year, the national aviation authority certified the first commercial plane made in China to compete with Boeing’s 737 Max and Airbus’ A320neo. The first C919 from state-owned Comac (Commercial Aircraft Company of China) was delivered to China Eastern in December. A Comac representative told Chinese media on Thursday that the company has already received 1,200 orders for the C919.
China’s aviation will experience unprecedented growth over the next decade, experts say. Both Boeing and Airbus expect demand for nearly 8,500 new aircraft between 2022 and 2041. These are mostly smaller aircraft for the short and medium range (oncesuch as the 737 MAX and A320) and smaller larger, so-called widebodyaircraft (Airbus A350, Boeing 787 Dreamliner).