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Boeing dispatched its 737 Max 7 test aircraft to China, part of what it hopes will be a final technical proving leg on its way toward eventual recertification by the country’s aviation regulator. The aircraft left Boeing Field in Seattle on Aug. 4, hopping through Hawaii and Guam on its way to Shanghai-Pudong.

While a demonstrably positive development for the 737 Max’s return, Boeing’s trip to China is layered with challenges that span from the logistical in the middle of a pandemic to the geopolitical that define the increasingly tense U.S. relations. Boeing Chief Executive David Calhoun in late July, restated the company’s belief that it would gain Chinese recertification of the 737 Max before year’s end.

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Sanguine about the potential Chinese Max approvals, on which Boeing future aircraft production rates hang, Calhoun said, “I don’t want to imply that anything’s risk-free on this front. It’s not. It never will be, especially as it relates to those China relations, which are real. We see all the strains as well.”

With the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing approaching in February, Calhoun emphasized China’s need for airplanes and the country’s place in the broader aviation recovery, but added “hopefully bigger trade issues don’t get in the way, and I don’t believe they will. Both sides are incented for this industry to move forward.”

Yet it is here where the technical questions about demonstrating the changes made to the 737 Max overlap considerably with the ever-present geopolitical considerations. Calhoun’s comments were measured and diplomatic, but one influential senior leasing executive with a significant stake in the 737 Max backlog told The Air Current the timing of the Max’s return in China along with U.S. relations remain considerably chaotic. “What a mess,” said the senior executive. “Nothing is certain with Boeing and China.”

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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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