Chinese airlines have largely stopped hiring foreign pilots for Boeing ’s 737 MAX, nine months after two crashes led to the grounding of the bestselling model, according to recruitment agencies. Carriers in China’s booming aviation market had been among the most enthusiastic buyers of the plane, accounting for 20 per cent of a global fleet that now sits idle. Chinese airlines still pay above-market wages but the lengthy grounding has hit a swathe of roles paying multiple times the median salary of a commercial pilot in the United States. With no clear timeline for the MAX’s reinstatement, demand for expat pilots of any 737 variant in China has slowed to a trickle. “We’ve seen airlines suspend recruitment of 737 pilots,” said Andre Allard, president of AeroPersonnel Global in Montreal, which has worked in China since 2007. “Many of these airlines had the MAX on order. That evidently changed their plans.” China’s growing middle class has put the country on track to become the world’s biggest aviation market in the coming decade. For many local airlines, short-haul workhorses like the 737 became the aircraft of choice but China has long struggled to produce enough pilots. By the end of 2016, Chinese carriers had more than 1,000 foreigners in their cockpits, double the number in 2010. Boeing is under intense scrutiny following the two disasters that killed 346 people. In October last year, a Lion Air flight plunged into the sea soon after taking off from Jakarta, and in March an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed near Addis Ababa. It is not just those MAX tragedies weighing on the sector. China’s economy is slowing, and the country is locked in a trade war with the US. As an American aerospace manufacturer, Chicago-based Boeing has found itself in the middle of the dispute. China was the first major jurisdiction to ground the MAX plane, which has been banned from flying since March as Boeing tries to fix a flight-control system implicated in both crashes. The US aviation regulator said in December it would not complete the aircraft’s required approvals until 2020. A Boeing spokesman declined to comment on demand for foreign 737 pilots in China. Of the country’s big three carriers, China Eastern Airlines declined to comment, while Air China and China Southern Airlines did not respond to requests for comment.