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China grounded the Boeing 737 MAX in March 2019 after deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Photo:A FP

China’s first Boeing 737 MAX flight takes off after being grounded nearly 4 years following crashes

  • China grounded the Boeing 737 MAX in March 2019 after deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia occurred less than five months apart, killing 346
  • While other countries have been resuming 737 MAX flights since 2020, China is the last major aviation market to give it the all-clear

The Boeing 737 MAX returned to service in China on Friday, after being grounded in the country for nearly four years following two deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

China Southern Airlines domestic flight CZ3960 departed at 12:45pm from Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, and landed at 2:55pm in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, according to the Flightradar24 flight tracker.

Senior executives at Boeing last year expressed pessimism about resuming 737 MAX deliveries in China, saying the company would start to remarket some 737 MAX jets earmarked for Chinese customers.

“We defer to the airlines on their flight operations,” said a Boeing spokeswoman when asked about the resumption of Boeing 737 MAX on Friday.

China was the first country to ground the 737 MAX in March 2019 after 346 people died in the crashes less than five months apart, before the narrow-body passenger jet was grounded worldwide.

The resumption of [737 MAX] flights indicates that it has met ... principles that the CAAC repeatedly underscored

Countries including the United States have been resuming flights of the 737 MAX since late 2020, making China the last major aviation market to allow the Boeing passenger jet to return to service.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued an airworthiness directive for the 737 MAX in December, which means airlines could resume flying the narrow-body passenger jet.

The resumption of commercial services in China could represent a milestone for Boeing to regain some ground in the critical aviation market, although the US aerospace giant has struggled to expand its business as a result of souring trade relations between China and the US since 2018.

“The resumption of flights indicates that it has met ... principles that the CAAC repeatedly underscored: the design revision had to obtain airworthiness approval, the pilots had to obtain sufficient training, the conclusion of the investigation reports of two accidents had to be clear, and the improvement measures must be effective,” state media CCTV said on Friday.

Boeing holds talks with China’s regulator to allow 737 MAX’s return

Peter Gao, Boeing’s vice-president of commercial sales and marketing for Greater China, told the Post on the sidelines of the Zhuhai air show in November that the company was committed to supporting air transport in China over the next half-century, despite deteriorating relations between Beijing and Washington.

Boeing is facing strong competition from rival Airbus, which has been gaining orders in China. Xiamen Airlines switched its entire fleet from Boeing to Airbus after ordering 40 of the A320neo narrow-body airliners last year.

Last year, China also certified its home-grown narrow-body C919, designed to compete with Boeing’s 737 and Airbus’ A320. The C919 is made by the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), and the first one was delivered to China Eastern Airlines in December.

Zhang Yujin, Comac’s deputy general manager, told the Shanghai-based media outlet on Thursday that the company had received more than 1,200 orders for the jet.