Boeing facing multiple hurdles as China refuses to approve return to service of 737 MAX

©Boeing 737 MAX

Boeing is facing multiple hurdles as China makes it clear that it does not intend to approve, in the near future, alterations made to the Boeing 737 MAX, despite its return to service in the West in April this year. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) was the first agency to ground the 737 MAX and has a reputation for being the most conservative among the world’s aviation regulators.

The CAAC has issued three requirements that require satisfying before it will consider granting approval for the jet’s return to service: certified design changes, sufficient pilot training, and definitive findings from crash investigations from the two fatal flights that led to the original grounding of the 737 MAX worldwide. The current situation is not helped by political tensions between China and the U.S., especially over trade between the two nations and the U.S. probe into the origins of the COVID-19 virus. Boeing has also become frustrated with a distinct lack of cooperation over its efforts to help with approval of the jet.

It is believed that Boeing’s engineers travelled to China last year to answer the CAAC’s technical queries relating to the 737 MAX, but Boeing’s invitation for Chinese representatives to visit Boeing’s premises in Seattle to witness test flights has been declined. Six months after Boeing suggested that test pilots travel to Beijing, the U.S. planemaker has heard nothing.

China is seen as the fastest-growing market for plane manufacturers, yet Boeing has not received any orders for its jets since 2017, which has consequently resulted in its cutting production of the 787 model. With such uncertainty ahead, Boeing does not plan to increase production of the 737 MAX beyond its early 2022 monthly target of 31 units.

In addition, state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) is progressing with the development and certification of its home-produced C919, a direct narrow-body competitor to the 737 MAX and the Airbus A320. Certification is anticipated by the end of 2021, though an interesting situation will arise when it seeks Western certification if the 737 MAX has still not been approved.

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