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CAAC clears 737 Max, but aviation in China is different 33 months later

Boeing in the U.S. awoke Thursday morning to news from the Civil Aviation Administration of China that the regulator had approved changes to the 737 Max, 33 months after it was grounded, clearing the way for the aircraft to fly passengers again.

The Chinese recertification of the aircraft marks a significant economic thaw in the otherwise chilly relationship between the U.S. and China. Thirteen Chinese airlines are expected to return 97 parked 737 Max 8s to operation in the months to come and Boeing is expected to restart deliveries to its largest single market in the new year.

Yet, even with this key development, the jet will return to a transforming Chinese aviation ecosystem that bears little resemblance to the world just before the Max was grounded in March 2019. Since then, the dynamics between the U.S. and China have shifted considerably, along with a pandemic that has reshaped its logistical relationship with the world. And all this against the backdrop of major shifts in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s approach to western business.

Longer-term, senior industry leaders with billions of dollars at stake say privately that Chinese policy toward western business is shifting so rapidly that they fear an increasingly inevitable economic uncoupling. The ideological shift reverses decades of increasing openness, threatening access to China, once the anchor of the industry’s future prosperity.

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Jon Ostrower is Editor-in-chief of The Air Current. Prior to launching TAC in June 2018, Ostrower served as Aviation Editor for CNN Worldwide, guiding the network’s global coverage of the business and operations of flying. Ostrower joined CNN in 2016 following four and half years at the Wall Street Journal. Based first in Chicago and then in Washington, D.C. he covered Boeing, aviation safety and the business of global aerospace. Before that, Ostrower was editor of the award-winning FlightBlogger for Flightglobal and Flight International Magazine covering the development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and other new aircraft programs from 2007 to 2012. Ostrower, a Boston native, graduated from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs with a bachelor’s degree in Political Communication. He is based in Seattle.


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