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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