BEIJING, CHINA — China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines have announced plans to recommence Boeing 737 MAX aircraft deliveries in 2023, a move that could signal a subtle easing of ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China.

According to its annual report, China Southern Airlines intends to take delivery of 37 737 MAX aircraft in 2023, followed by 35 in 2024 and 31 in 2025, ultimately reinstating its initial goal of adding 103 of these planes to its fleet. Data from the ch-aviation fleets advanced module reveals that the airline currently operates 13 737 MAX 8s, with an additional 44 on firm order. However, it should be noted that Chinese airlines are traditionally reticent about disclosing their aircraft commitments, which are typically arranged through state-owned lessors, only revealing future orders shortly before delivery.

Meanwhile, China Eastern Airlines, with a fleet that includes three inactive 737 MAX 8s and seven more on disclosed order, plans to accept two aircraft in 2023 and another six in 2024.

China Southern Airlines made history in January 2023 by becoming the first Chinese carrier to resume commercial operations with its 737 MAX 8 aircraft, nearly four years after the model was grounded. Although this redeployment occurred with little fanfare, other airlines soon followed suit, with the exception of China Eastern, which has kept its 737 MAX grounded. It is worth mentioning that China was the final major jurisdiction to lift the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX.

Boeing, faced with China's reluctance to resume accepting deliveries of new 737 MAX jets, announced last year that it would begin remarketing some of the aircraft initially designated for Chinese customers. The manufacturer is also actively lobbying the White House for support in reestablishing sales within the Chinese market.

In addition to China Southern and China Eastern, the following Chinese airlines took delivery of 737-8s before the March 2019 grounding:

Air China (16),
Hainan Airlines (11),
Shanghai Airlines (11),
Xiamen Airlines (10),
Shandong Airlines (7),
Shenzhen Airlines (5),
Lucky Air (China) (3),
Fuzhou Airlines (2),
Kunming Airlines (2), and
9 Air (1).

Furthermore, in early March, Hong Kong-based Greater Bay Airlines placed an order for 15 B737-8s. It is important to note that, as a Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR), Hong Kong maintains an independent aviation regulator and a primarily autonomous trade policy.