BEIJING: A Boeing 737 MAX took off from southern China on Friday (Jan 13), the first domestic flight using the aircraft model since March 2019 when it was grounded after two deadly crashes.
The China Southern Airlines flight left the city of Guangzhou in the afternoon and headed for Zhengzhou, tracking website Flightradar24 showed.
A second 737 MAX flight took off from Guangzhou later on, flying to the central city of Wuhan.
China grounded the plane after two deadly accidents involving the model in 2018 and 2019.
An Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, killing 157 people.
That accident came five months after the crash of a 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 Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
The aircraft was cleared to fly again in the United States in November 2020, followed by other countries, after modifications were made to the flight control software and pilot training.
China was the last major Boeing market to deem the jet airworthy in December 2021, predicting it would return to Chinese airspace by “the end of the year or early (2022)”.
But the need to clear final hurdles with Chinese regulators meant the wait was longer than expected.
CHALLENGE FOR BOEING
The ban affected most airlines operating in the Asia-Pacific region, and presented major challenges for Boeing.
The company said in October it was seeking other potential customers for its 737 MAX because China was still not taking delivery of the jets it had ordered.
In addition, China’s zero-tolerance COVID-19 policies had “reduced demand for airplanes in general”, Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun said at the time.
But there had recently been signs that Chinese carriers would be allowed to resume using the aircraft.
A Boeing 737 MAX was used by MIAT Mongolian Airlines for 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.