A Boeing 737 Max airliner is expected to arrive in China on Saturday to begin validation trials aimed at clearing the narrowbody to resume commercial operations in the country. Approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China would allow the U.S. airframer to increase monthly production rates for the Max from 16 to 31 in early 2022.
An aircraft (tail number N7201S) registered to the manufacturer and operating as flight Boeing 701 landed at Honolulu’s John Rodgers Field Airport in Hawaii at 10.43 a.m. local time on Wednesday, after a 5-hour, 26-minute flight from Seattle’s Boeing Field. Boeing declined to comment on the flight, but sources with knowledge of the operation indicated to Bloomberg that this was a stop-over en route to China.
Since the Max remains barred from Russian airspace, the aircraft appears to have had to fly a longer route across the Pacific Ocean. A source told Reuters that the Max will arrive at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport on Saturday to prepare for a possible first test flight with CAAC officials on August 11.
“Boeing continues to work with global regulators as they complete their validation processes in order to better understand enhancements to the airplane,” a Boeing spokesperson told AIN when asked about the flight of the 737 Max. The CAAC has not issued an official statement on reports that it is preparing to evaluate the aircraft.
During a July 28 conference call to discuss Boeing’s second-quarter earnings, group CEO David Calhoun said he is confident of securing Chinese approval for the changes made to the 737 Max. FAA required extensive software upgrades, design changes, and new flight crew training procedures before it cleared the aircraft to resume operations in November 2020. The airliner had been grounded for 20-months in the wake of two fatal accidents that killed 346 people that were found to be due to malfunctioning of its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System.
Boeing has already delivered around 100 of the new Max aircraft to China, but these cannot fly commercially until the CAAC has given its approval. China’s air transport industry generally has enjoyed a fairly robust recovery from the Covid pandemic, however, just this week, Chinese authorities imposed new travel restrictions including extensive flight cancellations, in an effort to contain a surge in infections from the latest Delta variant of the Covid virus. All domestic flights were canceled out of the cities of Nanjing and Yangzhou. Authorities said that the flare-up in infections was in part traced to contact between airport workers and passengers at Nanjing Lukhou International Airport.