The Air Current

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Looming over the re-certification of the 737 Max are the increasingly tumultuous geopolitical relations between the U.S. and China. China’s notoriously slow and cautious aviation regulator was first to spark the Boeing jet’s grounding in March 2019.

U.S. and European aviation regulators are signaling that the extended saga of the 737 Max grounding is approaching its end following revisions to the jet’s flight control system software, training and internal wiring. The changes were forced after two crashes of 737 Max aircraft five months apart in October 2018 and March 2019 in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing all 346 people aboard both flights.

Days after the crash of Ethiopian Airlines 302, China ordered its fleet of 97 737 Max aircraft — the largest of any single country — pulled from service. Since then, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) hasn’t given any outward indication about when it may re-clear the aircraft for service. However, in the background, industry and airline leaders tell The Air Current that China’s work is progressing, but not without the broader strained political dynamics that have placed Boeing and the 737 Max in between U.S. and Chinese political friction.

Related: 737 Max grounding threatens to unravel the aviation certification world order

“They were always going to use the Max certification as a bargaining chip,” said a recently retired senior Boeing executive who worked extensively on the 737 Max with China’s airlines and its regulator.

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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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