Chinese commercial air transportation is coping with the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX in that country without greatly inconveniencing travelers.

Capacity was not tight before the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) told airlines on the night of March 10, local time, that 737-8 MAXs would be grounded on March 11, industry sources said.

Therefore, in many cases airlines were able to substitute aircraft of other types or other 737 versions, most commonly 737-800s, for 737-8 MAXs. 

Of 355 Chinese flights scheduled to be operated by 737 MAX 8s on March 11, only 29 were canceled, according to Chinese aviation data firm VariFlight. 

Airlines have also responded by merging flights: in those cases, one carrier has deployed a widebody aircraft to replace one of its own narrowbodies and one belonging to another airline.

A further factor mitigating the impact of the grounding in China has been that some 737 MAX 8s were already non-operational, because of trouble with their CFM LEAP-1B engines, the sources said.

The CAAC did not issue a formal documentary notice of grounding until 9 a.m. on March 11, and it permitted flying until 6 p.m., but because of overnight notifications, almost no Chinese 737-8 MAXs flew that day.

Chinese airlines have 96 737 MAXs, all of which are 737-8s. China Southern Airlines has the most—24 aircraft.

Bradley Perrett,

Research by Ryan Wang