A Boeing 737 MAX departed from the US on Wednesday to China for its imminent test flight, in hopes of restoring the relationship with one of its key customers.
According to sources who spoke to Reuters, Boeing and Chinese regulators have scheduled re-certification flights for the coming days.
FlightRadar24 saw the MAX 7 test aircraft take off from a Boeing field near Seattle at 8:17am local time, landing in John Rodgers Field outside Honolulu almost six hours later.
The test aircraft is expected to land in Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport on 7 August, followed by a simulator test on 8 August and the first flight test in China on 11 August.
The US planemaker’s 737 MAX jets were grounded for two years following fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that killed 346 passengers, and China was the first to ground its jets.
Civil Aviation Administration of China did not respond to a request for comment, and a Boeing spokesperson declined to disclose further details.
“Boeing continues to work with global regulators as they complete their validation processes in order to better understand enhancements to the airplane,” the spokesperson said.
In early July, China signalled it was preparing for a test flight, and Boeing said it would send around 35 pilots and engineers to meet with Chinese regulators.
China’s regulators have delayed returning its 737 jets because it had “major concerns” since 2019 when they were grounded.
“It’s nothing to do with aviation, safety or aviation safety,” Richard Aboulafia, a long-time watcher of the aerospace industry at the Teal Group, said to Bloomberg in March.
“It’s way above our pay grades, way above our heads. It’s geopolitics,” he added, referring to ongoing tensions between Washington and Beijing.
China is one of Boeing’s largest markets, and before the fatal crashes, Boeing was selling one-quarter of its aircraft to Chinese buyers.
Chief executive David Calhoun said at a Bernstein conference in June that “I do know that if it goes on for too long, I pay a price”, regarding China’s delay in re-certifying the 737 MAX.
Since the crashes, around 30 airlines in 175 countries have returned the 737 MAX to service.
In June, the largest variant, the 737 MAX 10, completed its first successful flight as part of a comprehensive test program verifying it is safe for entry into service.