A Boeing 737 Max airliner arrived in China on Saturday morning to begin validation trials aimed at clearing the narrowbody to resume commercial operations in the country. Approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) 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 Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport at 10:41 a.m. local time after a 4-hour 40-minute flight from Guam. It is expected to be prepared to start flight tests with CAAC officials on August 11.
Because the Max remains barred from Russian airspace, the aircraft had to fly a longer route across the Pacific Ocean. It arrived at Honolulu’s John Rodgers Field Airport in Hawaii at 10:43 a.m. local time on August 4, after a 5-hour 26-minute flight from Seattle’s Boeing Field. Then on August 5, it made a 7-hour 46-minute flight from Honolulu to Guam’s Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport, arriving at 12:04 p.m. on August 6. The three sector-trip covered a total of 7,567 nm.
Boeing declined to comment on the flights, but sources familiar with the operation confirmed to Bloomberg that its purpose was to position the Max for validation trials in China. The CAAC has not issued an official statement on reports that it is preparing to evaluate the aircraft.
“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.
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. The 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.