Boeing says Chinese airlines resumed operating all 737 MAXs in 2023

BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) -All Boeing 737 MAX jets operated by Chinese carriers are back in service at the end of 2023, the U.S. planemaker’s China head said on Friday, nearly a year after they started flying following a global grounding in 2019.

The best-selling Boeing model was grounded after fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The MAX returned to service around the world starting in late 2020 after modifications to the aircraft and pilot training, but Chinese airlines started to fly them again only in January 2023.

“All China civil aviation 737 MAXs have resumed operations,” Boeing China CEO Liu Qing said on Chinese social media, adding that this amounted to nearly 100 planes.

The culmination of the MAX’s return to service in China comes as Boeing conducts preparatory activities and flight tests on a number of 737 MAX jets designated for Chinese customers, raising speculation that the U.S. planemaker could soon restart deliveries of the MAX to China, which have been suspended since 2019.

A restart of MAX deliveries would be a major breakthrough for Boeing’s relationship with China, which has been impacted by the MAX crisis and U.S.-China political tensions. It would also be a financial win for Boeing, allowing it to collect payment for dozens of Chinese MAX planes in its inventory

The company last week made its first direct delivery of a 787 Dreamliner to China since 2019, a step seen as a possible prelude to the end of Beijing’s freeze on 737 MAX deliveries. Through November, it also handed over eight 777 freighters to Chinese customers, according to Boeing data.

Boeing has been virtually frozen out of new orders from China since 2017 amid Sino-U.S. trade tensions.

Boeing on Thursday said it had instructed airlines to check all MAX planes for a possible loose bolt in the rudder control system after loose or missing hardware was found on two planes.

Ryanair , which operates the 737-8200 version of the MAX, has inspected all its MAX aircraft, a spokesperson said.

“No issues have been identified,” the spokesperson said.

Southwest Airlines, which has an all-737 fleet, said it was conducting inspections “during routine overnight maintenance with no operational effects.”

FlyDubai, another carrier that exclusively operates 737s, is currently conducting inspections of its fleet and does not expect them to have any effect to the airline’s scheduled operations, a spokesperson said.

“Any findings will be reported through our Safety Management System,” the spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Sophie Yu in Beijing, Lisa Barrington in Seoul and Valerie Insinna in Washington; Editing by Tom Hogue, Jamie Freed and Mark Porter)