Grounded China Southern Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft parked in a line at Urumqi Airport, in west China’s Xinjiang region on June 5, 2019.
Greg Baker AFP | Getty Images
A Boeing The 737 MAX made its first passenger flight to China in nearly four years on Friday, a major milestone in the US plane maker’s attempt to rebuild its business in the second-largest aviation market.
Those China Southern Airlines Domestic flight from Guangzhou to Zhengzhou departed at 12:45 a.m. (0445 GMT) with a MAX aircraft, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.
The best-selling Boeing model was grounded in March 2019 after fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, but returned to service around the world from the end of 2020 after modifications to the aircraft and pilot training.
China is the latest major market to resume flying at the MAX amid ongoing trade tensions with the US, and the return comes as domestic travel demand rebounds after abandoning zero-Covid policies.
Foreign airlines began flying the MAX to China in October 2022, marking the first country to land the model after the accident loosened its policy.
China Southern had planned a return to commercial service for the 737 MAX in October 2022, but did not use it on the scheduled flights.
Boeing and China Southern did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Top Chinese customer
Chinese airlines had 97 of the narrowbody aircraft on the ground, according to Cirium data in 2019. China Southern is the largest Chinese customer for the model, with 50 on order, of which 34 have been delivered.
Boeing said in October that it still had 138 aircraft manufactured for Chinese carriers waiting to be delivered to the United States. It said it had started remarketing the jets to other carriers because there were no concrete signs that Chinese airlines would accept the planes in the near term.
China’s domestic aviation market was depressed in 2022 due to sporadic delays designed to curb Covid-19, but demand is rising now that Covid controls have been lifted.
Citi analyst Jason Gursky said the return of the MAX was the first step for Boeing to normalize its China operations, and may open the door to deliveries of new planes.
“Boeing suggested at its November 2022 investor day that its long-term financial goals do not contemplate the delivery of new aircraft to China,” he said in a note to clients on Wednesday, adding that a change in that situation would make his goals significantly lower . risky.
Boeing is far behind Airbus and deliveries to the world’s largest aircraft market, in large part due to the MAX grounding.
In 2022, Boeing delivered eight planes to China, while Airbus delivered more than 100.
Boeing has been virtually frozen out of new orders from China since 2017, while state-owned airlines last year placed a mega-order for nearly 300 Airbus planes.
Both Western manufacturers also face a fresh challenge in the market from the Chinese-made C919 narrowbody jet that was certified last year, although it will take time to ramp up production.