737 MAX deployed to north China for drier storage

Four Boeing 737 MAX aircraft took off from Shanghai on Monday for north China, where the drier climate will provide better storage, after the jet series was grounded worldwide.
737 MAX deployed to north China for drier storage
Ti Gong

Shanghai Airlines' grounded Boeing 737 MAX fleet at Hongqiao International Airport

Four Boeing 737 MAX aircraft took off from Shanghai on Monday for north China, where the drier climate will provide better storage, after the jet series was grounded worldwide for two months following two deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

The aircraft with Shanghai Airlines, with no passengers onboard, took off from Hongqiao and Pudong airports on Monday morning and landed at airports in Lanzhou in northwest Gansu Province and Taiyuan in north Shanxi Province.

The carrier will gradually dispatch all its 11 737 MAX to the Lanzhou and Taiyuan airports through Friday. They will be put into storage amid lower temperature and drier climate compared with Shanghai, the airline said in a statement released on Monday.

“Shanghai’s upcoming plum rain, high temperature and typhoon season will have adverse impacts on the long-term storage and safety of the aircraft,” the Shanghai-based carrier said.

Sufficient safety analysis of the aircraft and special training for crew were conducted ahead of the flights, the airline said.

The first 737 MAX to take off from Hongqiao airport had two captains and a copilot, with Shi Fukang, general manager of the airline, serving as the inspector onboard.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China initially ordered the grounding of all 737 MAX planes in March after an Ethiopian Airlines crash appeared to have similarities to a Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October involving the same plane, both claiming a total of 346 lives.

China booked the largest number of 737 MAX aircraft in the world. Thirteen Chinese carriers operate 96 such aircraft. Domestic operators also include Air China and China Southern, as well as Hainan, Xiamen, Shandong and Shenzhen airlines.

Worldwide, by the end of January, Boeing had delivered 350 of the 737 MAX family jets to customers worldwide, with about 4,660 more on order.

Key components of the suspended planes corrode more easily in wet climate. The US-based Southwest Airlines, the world’s largest 737 MAX operator, has also deployed its six 737 MAX planes to Southern California Logistics Airport in the desert in Victorville for drier storage.

Other domestic carriers are storing the 737 MAX fleet at their base airports. Fifteen 737 MAX planes, for instance, are berthed on the tarmac at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport. Another 12 such planes are being stored at the Urumqi Diwopu International Airport.

The Beijing Capital, Shanghai Hongqiao and Shenzhen Baoan airports, among the busiest airports in China, have about 10 737 MAX each, according to plane-tracing website Flightradar24.

Limited impact

Domestic carriers claim the suspension of the 737 MAX fleet has had a limited impact on their earnings because the grounding occurred after the Spring Festival travel peak season.

However, if the aircraft, which account for an increasing portion of the airlines’ capacities, remain grounded until the next travel peak period in June, domestic carriers will definitely feel the pressure, according to an analysis report from Industrial Securities.

China Eastern, for instance, originally planned to take delivery of another 11 aircraft of the same series in 2019, among the 60 aircraft it is set to receive this year. China Southern and Juneyao airlines also had vast delivery plans for the aircraft.

China Eastern has said it had to replace the grounded aircraft with the Airbus 320 series to ensure normal operation of its flights.

According to analysts, the operational cost to rent an aircraft comparable to the 737 MAX is about US$1 million over three months. Grounding also denotes higher maintenance and management costs for airlines, while some passengers may be reluctant to fly, too.

China Eastern has claimed losses from the Boeing, but the results of its claims depend on whether the aircraft has a serious design flaw, the China Eastern spokesperson said. The carrier will follow instructions from China's civil aviation authorities.

Norwegian Air has also sought compensation from Boeing for costs and lost revenue after grounding its 737 MAX fleet. The Oslo-based airline has 18 such passenger jets in its 163-aircraft fleet.

Boeing said it has suffered a US$1 billion hit to its bottom line amid the global 737 MAX crisis. The US aerospace giant has been under scrutiny since the March 10 crash of the Ethiopian Airlines jet.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said a Joint Authorities Technical Review team with technical safety experts from 10 nations, including China, has held its first meeting to review the FAA’s certification of the 737 MAX’s automated flight control system.

Over the next few months, JATR participants will take a comprehensive look at the FAA’s certification of the aircraft’s automated flight control system, according to the administration.

“To restore the 737 MAX, its airworthiness has to be recertified, while the refitting and pilot training must be effectively implemented,” said Xu Chaoqun, head of the aircraft airworthiness certification division with the CAAC.

“All the safety problems found during the investigation into the accidents also must be solved to ensure absolute flying safety,” Xu insisted.

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