A model Boeing 737 Max airliner is displayed at the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, or Airshow China, in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, China September 28, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song

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BEIJING/SYDNEY, June 15 (Reuters) – China Southern Airlines Co Ltd (600029.SS) carried out test flights with a Boeing Co (BA.N) 737 MAX aircraft this week for the first time since March, showed flight-tracking websites, in a sign that the jet’s return to China could be approaching as demand rebounds.

A MAX jet registered B-1127 took off from the airline’s Guangzhou headquarters on Tuesday morning and landed about two hours later in the central Chinese city of Nanyang, according to aeronautical data provider Variflight. . He returned to Guangzhou in the evening.

The plane made similar flights on Saturday.

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China Southern, which has a pilot training base in Nanyang, did not respond to a request for comment.

The airline, China’s largest operator of MAX planes, last flew the plane on March 14, Variflight data showed, a week before the fatal crash of a previous-generation 737. China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd (600115.SS).

The crash was seen by analysts as a setback in Boeing’s efforts to regain trust in China after the MAX grounded following crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019. read more

According to data from FlightRadar24, China Southern has not flown any other MAX jets in the past 90 days.

This week’s MAX flights come amid improving travel demand in China as the airline industry begins to rebound from a two-month lockdown of Shanghai’s financial hub due to a COVID outbreak. -19 – although low by global standards.

The latest data from China Southern showed demand, measured in revenue passenger kilometers (RPK), fell 69% in May from the same month a year earlier, but was weaker than an 80% drop. in April.

Data from travel agency OAG showed Chinese airlines increased capacity by 8% this week compared to last week.

Sources previously told Reuters that weak demand had delayed the MAX’s return to Chinese skies.

China’s aviation regulator lifted a grounding order late last year, after more than two-and-a-half years, but said planes would have to be modified and pilots would need training additional before returning the jet to service.

The regulator at the time expected airlines to resume commercial flights from the MAX around the start of this year but, with many cities under lockdown, none took place.

Before the MAX was grounded, Boeing sold a quarter of the planes it built each year to Chinese buyers, its biggest customers.

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Reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing, Jamie Freed in Sydney and Eric Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Christopher Cushing

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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