Boeing 737 Max departs for key test flight in China following 2-year safety ban

The test plane is expected to arrive at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport on Aug 7.
The test plane is expected to arrive at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport on Aug 7.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEATTLE/BEIJING (REUTERS) - A Boeing 737 Max jet departed for China on Wednesday (Aug 4) to conduct a flight test as part of the US plane-maker's attempt to gain approval in the vital travel market following two fatal crashes, people familiar with the matter said.

Flight-tracking site FlightRadar24 showed a 737 Max 7 test plane taking off from Boeing Field near Seattle at 8.17am local time (11.17pm Singapore time).

It landed in John Rodgers Field outside Honolulu nearly 5½ hours later to complete the first leg of its trip across the Pacific.

Boeing and China regulators have scheduled re-certification flights and testing in the coming days, the people said.

The test plane, which lacks the range for a direct flight, is expected to arrive at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport on Aug 7, ahead of a simulator test on Aug 8 and, if all goes well, a first flight test in China on Aug 11, one of the people said.

The sources declined to be named because they were not authorised to speak publicly about the matter.

A Boeing spokesman declined to comment on the flight and referred questions to regulators.

"Boeing continues to work with global regulators as they complete their validation processes in order to better understand enhancements to the airplane," the spokesman said.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Some 30 airlines and 175 countries have allowed the 737 Max to return to service following a nearly two-year safety ban after two crashes five months apart - Indonesia's Lion Air Flight 610 on Oct 29, 2018; and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019 - killed 346 people.

The ban plunged Boeing into a financial crisis, long since compounded by the global coronavirus pandemic.

Boeing's 737 Max remains grounded in China, where trade tensions between Washington and Beijing have cut off sales for years, though chief executive Dave Calhoun said last week he still expects the 737 Max to win approval before year end.

Before the 737 Max was grounded in March 2019 after the second crash, Boeing was selling one-quarter of the planes it built annually to China buyers. For years, simmering geopolitical tensions between Washington and Beijing have caused uncertainty.

Industry sources have also cautioned that the worsening Covid-19 situation in China may delay the planned testing.