China Southern Airlines has excluded the Boeing 737 Max aircraft from its near-term fleet forecasts, the latest in a string of Chinese carriers to do so, amid uncertainty over the type’s return to service in one of Boeing’s key markets. 

According to a Bloomberg report, airline chairman Ma Xu Lun told an investor’s briefing that the 737 Max is excluded from fleet plans through 2024. An airline representative later told the media outlet that the type was excluded owing to “uncertainty over deliveries”, but did not elaborate. 

China Southern 737 Max 8

Source: Wikimedia Commons

A China Southern 737 Max 8 in 2018

Cirium fleets data states that the Guangzhou-based carrier and its subsidiaries have close to 60 examples on order. 

The disclosure is an about-turn from previous estimates from China’s largest carrier. As recently as early April, China Southern said in its full-year financial results that it expects to take delivery of up to 39 737 Max aircraft this year. 

It was, at the time, the only airline among China’s three largest carriers to disclose imminent deliveries. Compatriots China Eastern and Air China both removed the type from their fleet forecasts through 2024. 

China, the first country in the world to ground the 737 Max following fatal crashes in late 2018 and early 2019, recertified the aircraft in early December 2021, paving the way for an eventual return to service, and for deliveries to resume. 

Boeing in February said its completion and delivery centre in Zhoushan, China, was ready to support deliveries of the 737 Max to Chinese operators when they resume. The airframer has previously stated that it expects to resume 737 Max deliveries to China from the first quarter of this year. 

The Chinese airline sector is also facing stiff challenges from a resurgent coronavirus wave in major cities, which has prompted harsh lockdowns across the country. Traffic data from the ‘Big Three’ show a collapse in domestic traffic in April, with passenger numbers close to levels seen at the onset of the pandemic.