The 737 MAX cockpit. Photo: AFP

The problem plagued Boeing 737 MAX, which was involved in two deadly crashes, is back flying in Europe and North America.

The world’s top aviation regulators, such as the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and Transport Canada (TC), have since OK’d it for commercial use, after the company reportedly dealt with all the issues related to aircraft safety.

However, the elephant in the room — the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) — is one of the last major aviation bodies that has yet to reapprove its operation.

According to a report at Aerotime Hub online, Boeing may still be facing a rocky path to gain approval for its 737 MAX to return to China, but progress was reported this week.

On August 4, one Boeing 737 MAX aircraft reportedly departed to conduct a key test flight in China — a step towards aircraft’s return in one of the most significant markets. 

According to insider sources quoted by Reuters, “Boeing and the Chinese aviation body scheduled recertification flights and testing in the coming days.” 

China was the first country to ground the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in 2019 after two deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia claimed 346 lives.

It would end up being grounded for 20 lengthy months, causing havoc with Boeing’s financial picture and drawing the ire of US legislators in Washington, who did not hold back their disgust for the aircraft giant’s highly paid executives.

It is estimated that to date, the grounding may have cost Chicago-based Boeing at least US$20 billion.

The operational approval by the Chinese authorities plays a significant role for Boeing since China is a crucial aerospace market, the report said. A green light from China would go a long way toward the plane’s eventual commercial success.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun has warned that an extended impasse between the US and China over long-simmering trade issues will have competitive consequences for the largest American exporter, Bloomberg reported.

CEO David Calhoun said Boeing has carried out a “top-to-bottom” overhaul and “turned the place upside down” as it learned lessons internally from two deadly crashes. Credit: Boeing.

“We can’t afford to be locked out of that market. Our competitor will jump right in,” Calhoun said of European rival Airbus during an aviation summit hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce in June.

“Nothing good comes from restricted trade.”

Calhoun praised the Biden administration for making progress with the European Union to end aircraft tariffs, while acknowledging the complex disagreements with China will be far tougher to untangle, Bloomberg reported.

“I hope we can separate intellectual property and rights from trade, and continue to encourage a free-trade environment between these two economic juggernauts,” Calhoun said. “I think it’s critically important.”

Beijing increasingly faces tensions with the West over its treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang, and has warned foreign companies not to step into politics.

Meanwhile, the UK’s SkyNews reported that the 737 MAX fleet has been placed under a safety directive by US regulators over fire-related concerns.

The FAA said all Boeing MAX planes and some other 737 models were affected by the precautionary measure.

The watchdog — itself hugely criticized last year for its oversight of the MAX fleet in its development stages — said on Thursday that the aircraft may have a failed electronic flow control in the air conditioning packs that vent air into the hold from other areas of the plane.

The directive prohibits operators from transporting cargo in the cargo hold if airplanes are operating with this condition unless they can verify items are non-flammable and non-combustible.

The airworthiness directive impacts 663 airplanes registered in the US and approximately 2,204 worldwide, the FAA said.

It potentially means that operators would be unable or struggle to take passenger baggage in the hold at the height of the holiday season.

Sources: Aerotime Hub, Reuters, SkyNews, Bloomberg