First Boeing 737 MAX delivered to China since 2019 lands in Guangzhou

BEIJING – The first Boeing 737 MAX delivered to China since 2019 landed Saturday at Guangzhou’s Baiyun International Airport, according to tracking website Flightradar24. 

The aircraft, a 737 MAX 8 belonging to China Southern Airlines, landed at 10:23 am local time (0223 GMT), according to the website. 

Boeing has rated China a crucial growth market, but deliveries ceased throughout the lengthy grounding of the 737 MAX following two deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019.

The delivery of the plane to China is a rare bright spot for the American company, which is facing intensifying scrutiny over its quality control practices in the aftermath of a near-catastrophic Alaska Airlines flight three weeks ago.

A panel blew off one of the carrier’s Boeing 737 MAX 9s mid-flight, leaving a hole in the fuselage and forcing an emergency landing.

Alaska Airlines resumed flights with its 737 MAX 9 fleet on Friday, after sweeping inspections. 

The January 5 incident followed months of earlier, smaller problems with the same aircraft. 

The Alaska Airlines episode represents the most serious operational problem for Boeing since the crashes in 2018 and 2019, which resulted in 346 casualties. 

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

Boeing executives have at times suggested that diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Washington played a role in the pause on deliveries of new jets even after Chinese officials moved to allow MAX planes already in China to resume service.

In addition, China’s zero-tolerance Covid-19 policies in the first three years of the pandemic had “reduced demand for airplanes in general”, Boeing chief executive Dave Calhoun said in 2022. 

But in December, China’s Juneyao Airlines took delivery of a 787 Dreamliner, the first Boeing craft to be delivered since 2019. 

The new 737 MAX 8, meanwhile, left Seattle this week and made stopovers on the islands of Hawaii and Saipan en route to China, according to flightradar24. 

Boeing last September forecast that China will need 8,560 new commercial planes through 2042, accounting for 20 percent of the world’s airplane demand.

The company said last year it had more than 80 737 MAX jets already built, but not delivered, to designated Chinese carriers.

Beijing hopes its new domestically produced passenger jet, the C919, will challenge foreign models like the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320, though many of its parts are sourced from abroad.

The C919 made its debut outside mainland China in December when it was put on display at Hong Kong International Airport. – AFP / pic TMR FILE