India allows Boeing 737 MAX planes to fly ending an over 2-year ban

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FILE PHOTO: A Boeing 737 MAX airplane lands after a test flight at Boeing Field in Seattle

By Aditi Shah and Rama Venkat

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's air safety regulator said on Thursday it had cleared Boeing Co's 737 MAX aircraft to fly with immediate effect, ending its nearly two-and-a-half-years of regulatory grounding in a key travel market for the planemaker.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said in its order that it has closely monitored the 737 MAX's global un-grounding trend, and has found "no untoward reporting" with 34 airlines across the world currently operating 345 MAX planes.

The 737 MAX was grounded worldwide in March 2019 after two fatal crashes in five months killed 346 people, plunging Boeing into a financial crisis, since compounded by the pandemic.

"The DGCA's decision is an important milestone toward safely returning the 737 MAX to service in India," Boeing said in a statement, adding that it continues to work with regulators and customers to return the airplane to service worldwide.

Around 175 countries have allowed the 737 MAX to return to service following the ban, leaving China as the only major market where regulators are yet to give the MAX a go-ahead. Boeing, earlier this month, conducted a test flight of the MAX plane in China.

The clearance will give Boeing the ability to make a stronger sales pitch for its narrowbody planes in India where rival Airbus dominates the skies with its family of A320 aircraft.

While Boeing still dominates India's widebody market, its share of narrowbody planes fell sharply after the demise of one of its biggest customers, Jet Airways. Jet was recently rescued from bankruptcy and is expected to fly again.

India's SpiceJet Ltd is Boeing's biggest and only customer for the MAX planes in the country. It has more than 100 of the planes on order.

However, Indian billionaire Rakesh Jhunjhunwala's plans to launch a new ultra low-cost airline could give Boeing an opportunity to regain lost ground. One industry source said the new venture, Akasa, was already moving towards 737s.

SpiceJet did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the regulator's clearance.

(Editing by Vinay Dwivedi and David Evans)

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