Industry analysts had expected the plane to resume flying there in the coming months. But its return could become intertwined with the investigation into the crash of the 737-800 NG, analysts said, with Chinese government officials hesitant to bring back the Max as they investigate a crash involving its predecessor.
The Max crashes were directly tied to flight-control software known as MCAS, which the Max is the only commercial airliner to use. That system was introduced to the Max to account for changes made when the plane was upgraded from the NG, or Next Generation, line.
On Monday, Boeing said that it was in touch with China Eastern Airlines and with the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency leading U.S. efforts in assisting China’s investigation into the crash.
The safety board said that it had appointed a senior investigator as the representative to the investigation and that Boeing, the manufacturer of the plane’s engines and the Federal Aviation Administration would contribute technical expertise. Boeing also said that its technical experts were “prepared to assist” China’s aviation authority, the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
The Boeing 737-800 NG is a workhorse of the skies. Boeing delivered nearly 5,000 of the planes between 1998 and 2020, far more than any of the other commercial planes it sells, according to Boeing data. Along with the Max, it holds special appeal for airlines because of its passenger capacity and travel range. Single-aisle planes are typically used for domestic flights, though some airlines use them for shorter international trips.
For Boeing and its 737 family, China is an important market. Of the 25,000 passenger planes in service worldwide, about 17 percent are Boeing 737-800 NGs, according to Cirium, an aviation data firm. China is home to nearly 1,200, followed by Europe, with nearly 1,000, and the United States, with nearly 800. In the United States, American Airlines has 265 in service, while Southwest Airlines has 205, United Airlines has 136 and Delta Air Lines has 77, according to Cirium.
China is also the second-largest market for Boeing planes, after the United States. Last year, the company forecast that the number of commercial planes in China would double by 2040, with airlines there needing 8,700 new aircraft by then, valued at about $1.47 trillion.