China operates first domestic Boeing 737 MAX flight since 2019

The resumption of flights is a boost for the American manufacturer in one of its most important markets.

January 13, 2023 11:08 pm | Updated 11:08 pm IST - Beijing

File image of grounded China Southern Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft parked in a line at Urumqi airport, in China’s western Xinjiang region.

File image of grounded China Southern Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft parked in a line at Urumqi airport, in China’s western Xinjiang region. | Photo Credit: AFP

A Boeing 737 MAX took off from southern China on Friday, the first domestic flight using the aircraft model since March 2019 when it was grounded after two deadly crashes.

The resumption of flights is a boost for the American manufacturer in one of its most important markets.

China was among the first countries to ground the plane after two fatal accidents involving its flight control software in 2018 and 2019, and was the last major Boeing market to rescind the ban.

On Friday a China Southern Airlines flight left the city of Guangzhou in the afternoon headed for Zhengzhou, tracking website Flightradar24 showed.

A second 737 MAX took off from Guangzhou later in the day, flying to the central city of Wuhan.

Operators had been unable to fly the plane in Chinese airspace since March 2019 when an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, killing 157 people.

That accident came five months after the crash of another 737 MAX in Indonesia, where 189 people died.

Investigators said a major cause of both tragedies was a faulty flight handling system known as the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).

After modifications were made to the software and pilot training, the aircraft was cleared to fly again in the United States in November 2020, followed by other countries.

Beijing deemed the jet airworthy in December 2021, predicting it would return to Chinese airspace by "the end of the year or early (2022)".

However, the need to clear final hurdles with regulators meant the wait was longer than expected.

Lingering trade tensions with the United States and China's deadliest plane crash for nearly 30 years in 2022 also slowed progress.

But there had recently been signs that carriers would be allowed to resume using the 737 MAX.

MIAT Mongolian Airlines flew one in and out of China on a round trip from Ulaanbaatar to Guangzhou in October, a route which has since been repeated.

Neither China Southern Airlines nor the Chinese civil aviation regulator were immediately contactable for comment regarding Friday's flights.

Boeing's China office declined to comment and referred AFP to aircraft operators.

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