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With airlines in China testing their 737 MAX fleet and Indonesia and Ethiopia ungrounding the type, it’s back in service everywhere. Almost.

We have covered the many steps in the process of returning the 737 MAX fleet to service, around the world. Obviously, the FAA in the US was first, but the stance of other countries around the world was critically important. Europe’s EASA and Transport Canada followed a few months later. Yet more countries slowly joined the list, throughout 2021. India, a key market of the aircraft, approved it back in August.

Photo: Boeing

But some countries have more influence than others. The stance of Indonesia and Ethiopia, as the countries where the two accidents happened, was key for many. China has many airlines with 737 MAX orders and was the first country to ground the type. So for many countries, the actions of these three countries were key, in getting confidence in the aircraft.

 

Airlines In China Ramping Up To Fly The 737 MAX

Meanwhile, the 737 MAX has clocked millions of hours in service, in the US, Europe and elsewhere. This, too, was a big factor for many. India, for example, cited the type’s trouble-free return elsewhere, as one reason to return it to service. And then back in December, China issued an airworthiness directive, detailing how airlines can return their MAX fleets to service.

It now appears that this process is underway. Two airlines in China are flight testing 737 MAX aircraft. The first to do so was Hainan Airlines, which test-flew an aircraft on the 9th of January. Then China Southern flew one of its own 737-8s on the 21st. Such test flights are necessary, after aircraft undergo the required modifications, to enter service.

Later in December, both Indonesia and Ethiopia approved the jet’s return to service, a day apart from each other. Both Lion Air (in Indonesia) and Ethiopian Airlines have started the necessary work, to restart operations with the type. Closer to China, other jurisdictions are now lifting the ban on the 737 MAX. This includes Hong Kong, whose aviation authority issued its own directive on the 21st of January.

 

Parked Aircraft Get Moving

As we’ve seen with other airlines, returning the jets to service happens progressively. This is because getting the planes out of storage, and then making the necessary modifications, takes time. Similarly, the airlines need to retrain their pilots, which includes sessions in a 737 MAX simulator. But Ethiopian, in particular, seems keen to ramp up its 737 MAX flights. At the moment, the airline has four 737-8s, and will soon get another five from Boeing.

Speaking of Boeing, a big proportion of its inventory of undelivered 737 MAX aircraft is for airlines in China. So these developments could see the manufacturer’s deliveries getting a strong boost, over the next few months. Boeing has a lot of other things on its plate, of course. Sticking to the MAX, the manufacturer should soon get certification for its 737-7. The 737-10 will have to wait for at least another year, however.

Image: Boeing

So, after China, Ethiopia and Indonesia, are there any other places where airlines are still waiting for the 737 MAX to return to service? Well, yes and no. Effectively, the only large country still due to unground the type, is Russia. However, this author hasn’t been able to find any Russian airlines operating the aircraft. If you know any better, please comment below.

But in any case, there are other countries that may like to operate the 737 MAX to fly to Russia. So the stance of the country’s aviation authority on the matter is quite important.

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