August 11, 2021

BEIJING/SYDNEY (Reuters) -A Boeing Co 737 MAX test plane took to the skies in China on Wednesday as the U.S. manufacturer looks to end a nearly two-and-a-half-year regulatory grounding of the model in the key travel market.

Flight-tracking website Flightradar24 showed a 737 MAX 7 test plane taking off from Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport at 9:24 a.m. (0124 GMT), with no destination listed. It was flying in a southeasterly direction.

The 737 MAX test plane left Seattle last week and arrived in Shanghai on Aug. 7 after refuelling stops in Honolulu and Guam. Reuters reported last week it was due for its first test flight in China on Aug. 11 if all went well.

Boeing did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

About 30 airlines and 175 countries have allowed the 737 MAX to return to service following a nearly two-year safety ban after crashes five months apart killed 346 people, plunging Boeing into a financial crisis since compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

Boeing’s 737 MAX remains grounded in China, where trade tensions between Washington and Beijing have cut off sales for years, though Chief Executive Dave Calhoun said last month he still expected the 737 MAX to win approval before year-end.

China’s aviation regulator previously issued three requirements for the 737 MAX’s return to service: certified design changes, sufficient pilot training, and definitive findings from the crash investigations.

Before the 737 MAX was grounded in March 2019, Boeing was selling one quarter of the planes it built annually to Chinese buyers. For years, simmering tensions between Washington and Beijing have caused uncertainty.

(Reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing and Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Stephen Coates)