(Bloomberg) — Boeing Co.’s 737 Max jets may resume commercial flights in China by the end of this year or early 2022, the nation’s Civil Aviation Administration said, a day after issuing an airworthiness directive that paved the way for the single-aisle workhorse to return to the Chinese skies after an almost three-year grounding.
China will also start introducing new Max aircraft around the same time, the agency said during a briefing Friday, marking a key moment for the U.S. planemaker, which has already convinced most major global regulators about the jet’s safety following extensive fixes. China’s directive on Thursday, posted on the website of the aviation regulator, removed the last safety related obstacle to bringing the Max back, and outlined steps airlines must take to begin flying it again.
China’s domestic airlines must now complete any aircraft modification, pilot training and other work before the 737 Max is brought back into service, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said at a press briefing Friday. It also made mention of Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China’s C919 passenger jet, noting that its airworthiness and the ungrounding of the Max are two separate tasks.
Boeing shares rose 7.5% on Thursday in the U.S., recouping losses from a broad rout Wednesday after the omicron coronavirus variant was detected there. The company’s shares are down 5.5% this year.
A return in the world’s second-busiest aviation market would pave the way for a planned ramp-up in 737 Max production to at least 31 planes a month early next year from 19 today. A significant number of the 370 completed Max aircraft in Boeing’s inventory are earmarked for China and clearing them out over the next two years is key to bringing in cash and raising output further.
“That’s good news,” Olivier Andries, chief executive officer of French engine maker Safran SA, said at a Paris press conference on Thursday in response to China’s move. “We can expect a ramp-up at Boeing.”
Safran said it is preparing for Boeing to lift monthly output to about 50 of the single-aisle jets in 2023. Based on figures from Boeing’s website, China accounted for about 20% of Max deliveries before the global ban that began in 2019 following two deadly crashes.
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The airworthiness directive marks an “important milestone toward safely returning the 737 Max to service in China,” a Boeing representative said by email. The company continues to work with regulators and customers to restart flying, the company said.
China was the first country to ground the Max, in March 2019, following the two crashes and had held off approving its return long after the U.S. regulator lifted its ban in late 2020. Europe and others followed in subsequent months. India took a little longer before eventually giving the jet the green light to fly again in August while South Korea lifted its ban last month.
Chicago-based Boeing and U.S. Federal Aviation Administration officials traveled to China in July and a Max jet was flown to the nation in early August for a test flight in the skies over Shanghai later that month.
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In an Oct. 27 earnings call, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun repeated his expectation that the Max would be cleared to fly in China this year and that deliveries would resume in the first quarter of 2022.
(Recasts with CAAC comments from first paragraph.)
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