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China says Boeing has permission to resume 737 MAX 8 deliveries

Published 01/25/2024, 04:23 AM
Updated 01/25/2024, 05:15 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Boeing logo is seen at the Farnborough International Airshow, in Farnborough, Britain, July 20, 2022.  REUTERS/Peter Cziborra/File Photo

By Eduardo Baptista and Sophie Yu

BEIJING (Reuters) -China said on Thursday it gave Boeing (NYSE:BA) permission last month to resume deliveries of its 737 MAX 8 to local customers, ending an import freeze on the U.S. planemaker's most profitable jets which came shortly after its first delivery in 2019.

Boeing on Wednesday delivered its first 737 MAX to a Chinese airline since March 2019 - a 737 MAX 8 registered to China Southern Airlines which is currently on the ground in Hawaii on its way from the United States.

China's green-light is a boost to the planemaker, which has been hit by the fallout from a mid-air blowout of a cabin panel on a 737 MAX 9 jet operated by Alaska Airlines, including the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration barring Boeing from expanding production of its best-selling narrowbody planes.

The emergency resulted in the aviation regulator grounding 171 737 MAX 9 jets and the cancellation of thousands of flights by U.S. carriers. No Chinese airlines operate MAX 9 aircraft.

"On Dec. 8, 2023, the Chinese department in charge completed the design approval of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 in accordance with China's civil aviation regulations, the aircraft is ready for delivery," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, when asked about the China Southern Airlines delivery.

Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

China is one of the fastest-growing aerospace markets, which Boeing projects will account for 20% of the world's aircraft demand through 2042.

It was China that first grounded MAX jets after two accidents in 2018 and 2019 that killed nearly 350 people.

While safety bans have been lifted, new deliveries had remained on hold as tensions between Washington and Beijing over issues ranging from technology to national security intensified.

Analysts say it is too early to say what this means for strained trade relations between the world's two largest economies.

"China's commercial airline purchases always have a political angle, so any progress Boeing makes in China to some degree is a reflection of bilateral relations, but China can not hold Boeing hostage to Washington politics, or else Beijing would become a hostage to Toulouse (Airbus)," said Drew Thompson, visiting senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

The MAX handover comes after Boeing in December made its first direct delivery of a 787 Dreamliner to a Chinese customer since 2019.

"It is certainly an encouraging sign that this aircraft is headed to China, but it remains to be seen how rapidly Chinese carriers accept 737s," said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor of industry publication FlightGlobal.

"Beijing's decision calculus for taking Boeing aircraft is opaque. While taking 737s could be seen as an effort to appease Washington DC, it could also be that the airlines have pressed for new aircraft," he added.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Boeing logo is seen at the Farnborough International Airshow, in Farnborough, Britain, July 20, 2022.  REUTERS/Peter Cziborra/File Photo

The 737 MAX 8 registered to China Southern Airlines left Seattle Boeing field in Washington state at 11:55 a.m. Pacific Time (1955 UTC) on Wednesday and in the first leg across the Pacific landed in Honolulu almost seven hours later, FlightRadar 24 data shows.

China Southern and the Civil Aviation Administration of China did not respond to requests to comment.

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