No timetable yet for Boeing 737 MAX's return to service in China

FILE PHOTO: A China Southern Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft is seen grounded at a storage area in an aerial photo at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

BEIJING (Reuters) - China, the first country to ground Boeing Co's BA.N 737 MAX following two fatal crashes, has not set a timetable for the plane's return to service, the head of its aviation regulator said on Thursday.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has set three principles for the jet to return to service in China, Feng Zhenglin, director at the agency, told reporters in a press conference.

Design changes need to be certified, pilots need to receive proper training and effective improvements need to be made to address the specific findings of investigations into the crashes, Feng said.

“Based on these three principles, we have not set a timetable for Boeing 737 MAX’s return to service here. As long as these conditions are met, we’re happy to see the MAX return to service in China,” said Feng.

“But if these conditions cannot be met, we still have to carry out strict airworthiness certification in order to ensure safety.”

The 737 MAX, which has been grounded around the world since March 2019, is expected receive regulatory approval from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to resume flying in November and enter service by the end of the year.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has not publicly disclosed a timeline for the MAX’s return of service, but sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters it is expected to lift its grounding order around mid-November, although the date could slip.

American Airlines has said it plans to return the jet to service at the year-end, subject to FAA approval.

Feng said the CAAC had maintained communications with the FAA, EASA, and Boeing over the MAX and that he had held two meetings with Boeing’s president on its return to service.

Reporting by Stella Qiu and Jamie Freed; editing by John Stonestreet and Mark Potter