US In Discussions With China Over Boeing 737 MAX Approval

The 737 MAX is making a steady return to service around the world, with airlines in the US, Europe and more reactivating fleets and taking deliveries of new aircraft. But there is still one blight on the map, and that’s China. With the MAX still grounded in the east Asian country, almost 100 aircraft remain out of service. But the Biden administration is working to change that.

China Southern 737 MAX
The US is discussing the ungrounding of the 737 MAX with Chinese authorities. Photo: Getty Images

A steady comeback

The Boeing 737 MAX has made an impressive comeback from its lengthy grounding. Since the FAA gave authorization for the type to fly, Boeing has been working hard to push the planes out of its factory and storage facilities and get them delivered to customers.

At the point of the grounding, around 350 MAX aircraft were thought to be in service around the world. Today, data from ch-aviation shows that 238 are in active service, with a further 21 undergoing maintenance. This includes fleet that airlines have reactivated, as well as new deliveries from Boeing.

However, 222 aircraft are still listed as ‘stored’. These are not those that Boeing is yet to deliver to customers, but aircraft that were delivered pre-grounding and are yet to be put into service. The number may also include a handful that have been delivered post-grounding but put directly into storage due to the travel downturn.

Notable among the yet to be reactivated aircraft are large numbers belonging to Chinese airlines. Air China has 15, China Southern has 26, Hainan has 10 and Shanghai Airlines has 10. There are other Chinese operators with grounded MAX too – Shenzhen, Fuzhou, Kunming and Lucky Air to name just a few.

Air China 737 MAX
Almost 100 737 MAX are grounded in China. Photo: Boeing

Altogether, almost 100 737 MAX belonging to Chinese airlines are still not back in operation. At present, these aircraft will remain on the ground, as China remains the last major aviation authority unwilling to let the plane fly.

In discussions

China was the first country to ground the 737 MAX following the two deadly crashes of the type. As a growing aviation market, it’s an important region for Boeing and a country where it needs to be able to trade. Speaking with Bloomberg, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo confirmed that the Biden administration is in conversation with the Chinese authorities about the MAX, commenting,

“We’re absolutely working on it … China’s a big market, and we have to make sure American companies can do business there and export there.”

China Southern 737 MAX
As well as the grounded fleet in China, Boeing has MAX aircraft built and ready to deliver pending the ungrounding. Photo: Getty Images

On the other side of the world, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian was asked during a press conference what progress was being made on the MAX. As reported by Huanqui, he responded,

“It is understood that the civil aviation authority of China has been maintaining communication with the FAA and relevant US companies on relevant issues, and is currently actively and orderly advancing relevant work.”

According to Zhao Lijian, the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) requires three key principles to be met before it will unground the aircraft. These are:

  1. Its design must be approved as airworthy
  2. All crew must receive effective retraining
  3. The reports into the two incidents must be clear, with effective improvement measures as outcomes

It’s not clear which of these measures has not been met yet, but CAAC is clearly not ready to authorize the plane to fly. For Boeing, it’s important to get the MAX back into service in China, not just for the grounded fleet, but also for the future. To put it in perspective, the last time a Chinese airline ordered a 737 MAX Barak Obama was in the White House. That’s something Boeing not only wants but needs to change.

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