Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, the US. Picture: REUTERS/LINDSEY WASSON
Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, the US. Picture: REUTERS/LINDSEY WASSON

China still has big safety concerns about Boeing’s 737 Max, the deputy head of the country’s aviation regulator said on Monday when asked if it was considering following others in allowing the plane to fly again.

Once issues have been fully dealt with, China will conduct a final review of the aircraft, Dong Zhiyi said at a briefing in Beijing. Authorities have been in “full communication” with Boeing and the US’s Federal Aviation Administration, he said.

China, a crucial market for Boeing and the Max, was the first country to impose a ban on the aircraft after a crash in Ethiopia in March 2019 that killed 157 people. The previous October a Max jet operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea, claiming 189 lives. Both disasters were partly blamed on software that pushed the planes into nosedives.

Other nations followed China’s lead on the flight ban, resulting in the Max being grounded globally for about 20 months. Several countries have certified it to fly again in recent months and it is back in service in places including the US, Europe and Brazil. Australia lifted its ban on the plane last week, as did Saudi Arabia on Monday, state media reported. But China has not budged.

A spokesperson for Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Boeing’s China orders largely dried up in the past four years amid heightened tension between Washington and Beijing around trade and other areas, as well as concern over the Max, which was a bestseller.

“I do believe that when a constructive relationship is begun, then things will quiet down and the Chinese will want to get airplanes,” Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said in December, the same month the Max returned to commercial service in the US for the first time since the grounding.

China has three main criteria that need to be met before allowing the Max to fly again: changes in design aimed at fixing the plane’s problems need to be approved by China, pilots need to be retrained to fly the jetliners following those changes, and the conclusions from the Ethiopian and Indonesian crash reports need to be clear.

The nation’s main carriers, Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines — are all Max customers, with about 10 other Chinese airlines.

In its latest outlook on the Chinese market, Boeing said the country will continue to be the main driver of the aviation industry’s worldwide growth over the next 20 years. China’s airlines are likely to buy 8,600 new airplanes worth $1.4-trillion during the period, the US manufacturer said.

Bloomberg

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