Beijing: Boeing’s 737 Max finally returned to commercial service in China after a nearly four-year absence, a major boost to one of America’s top exporters in its most important foreign market.
China Southern Airlines, the country’s largest airline, operated the service Friday using the first 737-8 Max that Boeing delivered to it in November 2017. A Chinese airline hadn’t flown passengers on a Max since the model was grounded in March 2019 following crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people.
The flight took off from Guangzhou at 12:45 pm local time, heading to Zhengzhou, according to tracking data from FlightRadar24 and VariFlight. That’s about a 2 1/2-hour journey. No other Chinese airlines have scheduled Max services yet.
Boeing’s best-selling aircraft is now flying again in the world’s major markets aside from Russia. China, the first country to ground the Max after the Ethiopia disaster, approved its return to service in December 2021, saying it was satisfied with updates to software linked to the crashes.
Boeing in Chinese market
China took about a third of the 737 jets that Boeing built in the years before the grounding. The nation’s top carriers “- China Southern, Air China Ltd. and China Eastern Airlines Corp. “- are all Max customers, along with about 10 others.
The Max will likely be needed to help meet a surge in demand after China ended its Covid travel restrictions and reopened its borders. The volume of flights within China “- the biggest domestic air travel market in the world “- has recovered to 98 per cent of pre-Covid levels since the curbs were eased, according to VariFlight data.
Boeing has said it expects China to need 8,485 new passenger and freighter aircraft worth $1.5 trillion over the next two decades. That represents more than a fifth of its total global deliveries over the period. The next major step will be for Chinese carriers to restart taking deliveries of the Max, which would boost Boeing’s finances.
A sign that the Max would be returning soon came on October 10, when Mongolian Airlines became the first carrier to fly the jet into China since the grounding. China held off approving its return long after US regulators lifted a ban in late 2020. Europe and others followed in subsequent months.
The delay has been a blow to Boeing, which was left on the sidelines as rival Airbus SE announced a massive order for nearly 300 jets from Chinese airlines over summer. Shortly afterward, another Airbus order came from China Southern unit Xiamen Airlines Co., which previously only operated Boeing planes. With the Max unable to fly in China for so long, Boeing started remarketing its orders to airlines elsewhere.
“We’ll get back there someday. I just don’t think it’s any day soon,” Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said at a conference in Washington in September.