China suspends airworthiness certificate for Boeing 737 Max jet

China said it needs to review a proposed modification before determining whether the Boeing 737 Max jet is safe to fly after two recent crashes. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - China suspended a so-called airworthiness certificate for Boeing Co's 737 Max jet, saying it needs to review a proposed modification before determining whether the plane is safe to fly after two recent crashes.

The move raises the possibility of the Max being kept out of China's skies should authorities there deem a fix for software linked to the disasters inadequate.

The decision was taken in light of uncertainty surrounding the model and an anti-stall system that's the focus of a probe into the loss of an Ethiopian Airlines plane on March 10, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

It will be reviewed once Boeing has detailed the changes, the body said.

The potential blow to Boeing comes a day after China awarded a US$35 billion (S$47.30 billion) order to Airbus SE that consisted mostly of A320-series planes, the 737's biggest global rival.

The Asian nation was one of the first to ground the American narrow-body after the Ethiopian crash showed parallels to one involving a Lion Air Max in October, while Boeing has also become embroiled in a simmering trade spat.

"I suspect this has everything to do with the broader China-US climate," said Mr Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at Teal Group. "Boeing is on the front line in this confrontation. The Max looks like merely a pawn."

The US Transportation Department is creating a commission to review aircraft certification, including an evaluation of how the Federal Aviation Administration oversees the process.

While Boeing is working with airlines and regulators this week to prepare an update for the suspect software, known as the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System, it faces increased scrutiny and possible criminal action as the Justice Department begins a probe.

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