HONG KONG-China has cleared Boeing Co.'s (>> The Boeing Company) 787 planes for commercial service with the nation's airlines, a development that could help Boeing lock in more orders from one of the world's fastest-growing aviation markets.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China's decision comes less than a month after U.S. and Japanese authorities lifted a flight ban on the Dreamliner, which had been grounded world-wide since January after lithium-ion batteries burned on two planes.
China's prosperity has fueled robust travel demand, and Chinese carriers looking to bulk up their fleet now have the option of ordering the Dreamliner to cover long-haul, nonstop routes to Europe and North America. Boeing's new plane is smaller than many existing wide-body jets, but can fly greater distances.
Japan's All Nippon Airways Co., a unit of ANA Holdings Inc. (>> ANA Holdings Inc), said Thursday it will bring the 787 back into commercial service in late May to operate additional flights for some domestic routes. United Continental Holdings Inc. (>> United Continental Holdings Inc) earlier this week completed its first commercial 787 flight since the planes were grounded in January.
A person familiar the situation told The Wall Street Journal that China Southern Airlines Co. (>> China Southern Airlines Co Ltd) will be the first Chinese carrier to receive the Dreamliner jets in weeks. A China Southern spokeswoman declined to comment on when it will take delivery.
Chinese airlines have ordered a total of 35 Boeing 787s, including 10 each for Hainan Airlines Co., the nation's fourth-biggest carrier, and its bigger rival China Southern, according to Boeing.
Guangzhou-based China Southern, the nation's biggest carrier by fleet size, had expected to take delivery of the first jet last year after several rounds of production delays, but the plan was held up because Chinese authorities hadn't issued an airworthiness certificate for the aircraft. The grounding of 787s worldwide added to the delay. Some foreign airlines had been operating 787s on routes into China before the grounding.
For months, 787s painted in China Southern and Hainan Airlines colors have sat outside the aircraft manufacturer's production facilities in the U.S., undergoing flight tests and awaiting delivery.
A China Southern executive said earlier it wants to take delivery of as many as eight 787s this year, with the remaining two on order joining the fleet next year. The carrier will first operate the Dreamliners on key domestic routes such as Guangzhou-Beijing and Guangzhou-Shanghai, before moving them on to international services such as Guangzhou-London and Guangzhou-Vancouver.
Hainan Airlines has said it plans to operate the 787s on a new service between Beijing and Chicago starting in September.
Boeing expects China will need 5,260 new airplanes in the next 20 years, buoyed by refleeting and growing demand for air travel. China's airlines operated 1,941 planes as of the end of 2012, according to the aviation regulator.
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