China Southern cancels the mysterious Boeing 737 MAX flights

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Two domestic flights in China came to the centre of attention on October 30, 2022. On the day, one of China’s Big Three airlines had the Boeing 737 MAX listed for operations, posing the question of whether MAX would finally be fully returning to Chinese skies.

The website of China Southern Airlines (ZNH) had indicated that two of the airline’s domestic flights on October 30 would be operated with the Boeing 737 MAX, as Reuters spotted earlier in the week.

The flights in question were both due to originate at China Southern hub in Guangzhou and land at Zhengzhou (flight CZ3960) and at Wuhan (CZ8724).

However, on October 30, 2022, both flights were cancelled, two different flight tracking websites show.

The Boeing 737 MAX’s first commercial flight to China following the 2019 grounding took place on October 10, 2022. On that day, MIAT Mongolian Airlines operated the model on its flight OM235 from Chinggis Khaan International Airport (UBN) in Mongolia to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN), China.

Boeing MAX grounding in China

In March 2019, China became the first country to ground the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft following two fatal crashes of Lion Air flight JT610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302. Following a lengthy recertification process, the US Federal Aviation Administration cleared the aircraft model for commercial passenger operations in November 2020.

The European Aviation Safety Agency, Transport Canada, and other aviation bodies followed the suit and recertified the aircraft in the following months, leaving China to be the only major country that is yet to officially unground the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

In September 2022, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) organized a meeting with Boeing to discuss the MAX’s return.  However, the regulatory body did not issue a date for the aircraft to be returned to Chinses skies at that time.   

Which Chinese airlines have the Boeing 737 MAX in their fleets?

Out of China’s Big Three airlines, China Southern is the largest Boeing 737 MAX operator, currently having a total of 24 737 MAX aircraft in its fleet, Planespotters.net data shows. Adding to that, Air China has a total of 16 MAXs, while China Eastern Airlines (CIAH) (CEA) (CIAH) (CEA) has only three 737 MAX aircraft in its fleet.

In September 2022, Boeing announced plans to remarket some 737 MAX aircraft built for Chinese customers. Prior to this, the backlog of undelivered MAX planes was estimated to stand at approximately 290, half of which were built to be delivered to Chinese airlines.   

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