China Suspends Airworthiness Certificate for Boeing 737 Max

(Bloomberg) -- China suspended a certificate of airworthiness for Boeing Co.’s 737 Max jet, saying it needs to review a proposed modification before determining whether the plane is safe to fly after two recent crashes.

The move raises the possibility of the Max being kept out of China’s skies should authorities there deem Boeing’s fix for plane-control software linked to the disasters inadequate. Chinese authorities grounded the country’s fleet of Max planes on March 11, a day after an Ethiopian Airlines flight plunged to the ground.

The latest decision was taken in light of the uncertainty surrounding the model and an anti-stall system that’s the focus of a probe into the loss of the Ethiopian Airlines plane, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China. It will be reviewed once Boeing has detailed the changes, the body said.

The potential blow to Boeing comes a day after China awarded a $35 billion order to Airbus SE that consisted mostly of A320-series planes, the 737’s biggest global rival. The Asian nation was one of the first to ground the American narrow-body after the Ethiopian crash showed parallels to one involving a Lion Air Max in October, while Boeing has also become embroiled in a simmering trade spat.

“I suspect this has everything to do with the broader China-U.S. climate,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at Teal Group. “Boeing is on the front line in this confrontation. The Max looks like merely a pawn.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how long the process will take for the Max to regain its certification, but some suggested it could take a long time.

“Recertification means the whole vetting process will begin all over again,” said Zhang Qihuai, a partner at Lanpeng Law Firm and a former China Air Force lawyer. “For mature plane types, it will take a few days. But for a new plane type, it will take as long as needed. The 737 Max is a new jet.”

In addition to China, officials in Canada and the European Union have signaled that they intend to independently review changes to the Boeing planes before restoring flights.

Airbus Deal

Addressing the decision to buy planes from Airbus, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China and France have consistently cooperated in the aerospace industry to each other’s benefit.

"China’s market has provided conditions facilitating the growth of the Airbus company,” Geng said at a briefing in Beijing on Tuesday. “China will stay in cooperation with relevant parties concerning the aerospace industry."

In the U.S., the Transportation Department is creating a commission to review aircraft certification, including an evaluation of how the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration oversees the process. While Boeing is working with airlines and regulators this week to prepare an update for the suspect software, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, it faces increased scrutiny and possible criminal action as the Justice Department begins a probe.

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