China Remains Vague On MAX Service Resumption

China Southern Airlines MAX
Credit: Boeing

SINGAPORE—China’s two largest airlines are not providing a clear roadmap on their future with the Boeing 737 MAX, offering no indications on when the aircraft may return to service, or even if they will take deliveries at all. 

Days after an ambiguous fleet update by China Southern Airlines chairman Ma Xulun to investors, China Eastern Airlines also updated shareholders that it has not taken the “required steps” to put the MAX aircraft back into the skies. 

China Southern was expecting 39 737 MAXs in 2022, along with another 37 and 27 in 2023 and 2024, respectively, as published in its annual report. Ma later said in mid-May that the airline is taking delivery of 78 commercial aircraft within the same time frame, not factoring the MAX into the forecast. Bloomberg later reported that China Southern has removed the aircraft from the fleet plans primarily due to “uncertainty surrounding the delivery.” 

China Southern, which is the country’s largest carrier, later issued a clarification, simply saying the “delivery forecast was not confirmed.” 

On May 20, China Eastern vice chairman Li Yangmin told investors that it had not commenced work on the steps stipulated by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to bring the aircraft back to service, specifically the aircraft’s avionics modifications and additional pilot training. 

Citing Li, Bloomberg also added that the “supplementary operational certification” can only be carried out after the required steps are taken. 

CAAC approved the airworthiness directive (AD) in December 2021, which mandated the modification to the model’s flight control computer, horizontal stabilizer trim wire as well as the option of pulling circuit breakers to disable the stick-shaker stall warning. 

China Southern conducted a test flight in mid-January, and Hainan Airlines also reactivated a 737 MAX from Taiyuan on a ferry flight back to its base in Haikou. At that time, local analysts and regulators initially expected the 737 MAX to return to the skies by “early 2022,” but no Chinese carriers have since put the aircraft into commercial service nearly five months on. 

Aviation Week Network’s Fleet Discovery data shows Chinese carriers have 443 737 MAX aircraft on order and 97 parked or stored.

Chen Chuanren

Chen Chuanren is the Southeast Asia and China Editor for the Aviation Week Network’s (AWN) Air Transport World (ATW) and the Asia-Pacific Defense Correspondent for AWN, joining the team in 2017.