China has officially lifted the ban on the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft after almost three years of groundings following the 2018-19 fatal disasters.
The decision comes as China was the last key global market to reintroduce the jet to its nation, following hefty safety assessments over the past year.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) posted an airworthiness directive late last week on its website which said: “After conducting sufficient assessment, CAAC considers the corrective actions are adequate to address this unsafe condition.”
In a further statement on Friday, the regulator said it expects “commercial operation of the existing domestic fleet will be resumed progressively at the end of this year or early next year”.
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.
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 is one of Boeing’s largest markets, and before the fatal crashes, Boeing was selling one-quarter of its aircraft to Chinese buyers.
In August, a 737 MAX departed from the US to China for its flight testing, which marked a major milestone for Boeing to restore the relationship.
“The CAAC’s decision is an important milestone toward safely returning the 737 MAX to service in China,” Boeing said in a statement.
“Boeing continues to work with regulators and our customers to return the airplane to service worldwide.”
Boeing said more than 180 countries have lifted the ban on the 737 MAX except Indonesia, where the first crash occurred, and Russia.
The airworthiness directive means the 737 MAX now has approval to fly in China, but the CAAC said the aircraft will not immediately return to the skies.
“Obtaining airworthiness is just one of the most basic tasks,” the CAAC said on Friday.
Domestic airlines will still be required to “complete aircraft modification, restoration of parked aircraft, pilot training and so on”.
It comes only months after India recertified the jet in August, which is also one of its major markets.
The United States recertified the aircraft in November 2020, and regulators across the globe have gradually returned the jet to their skies as the planemaker has ramped up its safety assessments and procedures to ensure its air readiness.