BEIJING, CHINA — On January 13, a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft conducted its first passenger flight in China after four years, significant progress for the American aircraft manufacturer, which is trying to regain a foothold in the world's second-largest commercial aviation market.

China Southern Airlines conducted a domestic flight from Guangzhou to Zhengzhou with a 737 MAX jet.

Boeing's newest generation single-aisle jet was globally grounded in March 2019 due to two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The aircraft resumed operations in late 2020 after improving safety and providing additional training for pilots.

China is the last country to reintroduce the 737 MAX into service, as the ongoing political and economic tension with the US shows no sign of softening. The Chinese regulator approved the return of the 737 MAXs to the service as the demand for air travel soared after the country left its zero-COVID policy.

Foreign airlines have been allowed to fly to destinations in China with their 737 MAXs since October 2022.

Chinese airline operators had 97 737 MAX planes in their fleets before the model was banned from flying. China Southern is the largest 737 MAX customer in China. The carrier received 34 of the 50 aircraft on order with Boeing.

Boeing has 138 completed 737 MAX jets stored in its Renton factory, intended for Chinese carriers. Last year in October, the American aircraft manufacturer announced that it had started offering the jets to other customers as there were no clear indications that Chinese operators would receive the planes in the near future.

The domestic aviation market in China struggled in 2022 due to the intermittent lockdowns implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19, but demand is now increasing as the country has lifted these measures.

The reintroduction of the 737 MAX was the first step for Boeing in restoring its operations in China, and it may lead to the delivery of new planes.

Boeing has not been receiving new orders from China since 2017, while the country's state-owned airlines placed orders for almost 300 Airbus aircraft in 2022 alone.