Boeing 737 MAX en route to China for first delivery in 3 years since fatal crashes led to grounding
- The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded in China for three years after two fatal crashes, but has conducted a number of earlier test flights
- Flight tracking websites showed the plane, painted in the livery of Shanghai Airlines – a subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines – was heading to Hawaii
A Boeing 737 MAX jet that took off from Seattle on Monday is en route to the manufacturer’s completion plant in China, an industry source said, in a sign the model is closer to returning to commercial flights after a three-year grounding.
Flight tracking websites showed the plane, painted in the livery of Shanghai Airlines – a subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines – was heading to Hawaii.
The source, who was not authorised to speak publicly, said it was the first fuel stop of a multi-day journey.
“If this points to a delivery, it will be the first MAX delivery to China since March 2019, which is material as the country historically has represented 17 per cent of deliveries,” Jefferies analysts said.
China, the first country to ground the 737 MAX, is the only major global market where the aircraft is still not in commercial service, and its return is taking longer than expected at a time when domestic demand is declining as coronavirus cases rise.
So far, however, there have been only test flights, in a move that has also delayed deliveries of more than 100 MAX jets already built for Chinese customers that are located at Boeing sites in the United States.
Boeing chief executive David Calhoun said in January that his company was getting ready to deliver the planes as early as the first quarter, once the fleet already in China returned to service.
Boeing declined to comment on the MAX flight to Zhoushan.
The planemaker said in a statement that it continued to work with regulators and customers on the MAX return to service worldwide.
Chinese airlines are in no rush to bring back the 737 MAX because of falling domestic demand amid the biggest coronavirus outbreaks in two years, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly.
“There is less urgency to add capacity now,” one of the people said.
China Southern Airlines is among the Chinese airlines closest to returning the plane to commercial service and might be the first to do so, the person said.
China Southern did not respond immediately to a request for comment.