This week, Boeing took the time to not only show off their improved production line for the 737 MAX, but also the first (and second) aircraft. Over two days, AirlineReporter visited Boeing’s 737’s factory in Renton, Wa to learn more about the 737 MAX and how Boeing will go about producing them.
The MAX is the fourth generation of the venerable 737 and will replace the 737 Next Generation (or 737 NG). The first 737 first flew in April 1967 and, although it might have the same name and a similar appearance, the aircraft has changed dramatically over the years.
The MAX will come in three main flavors: the MAX 7, MAX 8, and (wait for it) MAX 9. I have to say that it’s a bit weird to have the “MAX” [aka maximum] with a 7, but then also an 8 and 9? Oh well.
The number of passengers in each respective version of the aircraft will be similar to the 737 NGs. The MAX 7 will carry 126 to 149 passengers, the MAX 8 will carry 162 to 200 (with the MAX 200 for Ryanair), and the MAX 9 will have 180 to 220. These changes are taking the 737 frame, technology, and cost savings… well… to the MAX!
737 MAX: About the new aircraft
One of the biggest selling points of the 737 MAX is its efficiency. The aircraft realizes the most fuel-savings through the use of the CFM International LEAP-1B engine. This engine incorporates many of the efficiency features of the GEnx engine, from which it was derived. In addition, the wing shape, engine nacelle, and the engine’s forward mounting position all work to smoothly direct air into and around the engine, providing additional efficiency. Other fuel-savings come from reduced weight, and improved aerodynamics (including the new Advanced Technology winglet).
Boeing claims the 737 MAX will have a 20% increase in efficiency over the 737NG and that it will be 8% more efficient than it’s closest competitor, the A320neo. Although over the years I have found these kinds of claims – from all manufactures – to be somewhat dubious, until they actually are put into operation with airlines. Either way, it is clear the aircraft will save airlines money (which they will hopefully pass onto their customers).
Other selling points of the new 737 are a 40% reduction in noise, the Boeing Sky Interior (which will now be standard), and the option for the roomier Space Bins.
Boeing hopes to fly the first MAX in early 2016, with the first delivery to their launch customer, Southwest Airlines (who has 200 MAXs on order and another 191 options), during the third quarter of 2017. Orders for the MAX aren’t doing too shabby – already on the books are 3,000 orders, from 60 different customers from around the world. To help keep the planes rolling out, Boeing plans to increase production rates of the 737 (as a whole) to 47 per month in 2017 and then 52 per month in 2018.6
737 MAX: Factory Tour
On the first day of 737 MAX tours, AirlineReporter writer Francis Zera was able to to head inside the Boeing 737 MAX factory to check out the new production line. One of the coolest parts was getting a sneak peak of the new flight deck.
The MAX’s flight deck will not have many updates and it will keep commonality with the 737 NG. This will make it easy for pilots to transition from one type to the other. One significant visual change is the addition of four large 15.1-inch LCD displays that will relay critical flight information to the pilots.
737 MAX: Official roll out
On the second day of the event, Boeing had the official “roll out” of the first MAX, called Spirit of Renton (named after the city it was built). I put “roll out” in quotes, since the plane was outside and it was more like people “rolled/strolled out” of the factory to see it.
After media had their chance to get early morning photos, we left, and then thousands of employees were able to celebrate their accomplishments (you can view a bit of video of it here). It is always great seeing the people who worked so hard on an aircraft, experience it (almost) finished. Not to mention they all got some pretty slick hats too!
737 MAX: About that Advanced Technology winglet…
So, let’s talk about the winglet on this thing. It is freak’n cool. When I first saw a mock version of it on display at the Farnborough Air Show, I was in awe. Yea, yea winglets save fuel, blah, blah, but this one also gives the historic 737 a little sexiness. And that sort of sex appeal deserves a much better name than “Advanced Technology winglet.” Zzz.
Is an airline going to choose the 737 vs A320 because of a winglet name? I surely hope not. But is it good to have passengers loyal to a brand? Of course. Companies spend millions (if not billions) of dollars on marketing to get people to connect to their brand. For most, the only way they will tell the different between a 737 NG and 737 MAX will be that winglet. When your kid is looking out the terminal window and asks, “what kind of plane is that?” You don’t want to be like “it is a 737 MAX, you can tell by the Advanced Technology winglet there son.” I think they can do better and it is not too late!
How about a campaign where people suggest new names, and then folks vote on their favorite? Boeing did it with the Dreamliner name, so seems easier to do a winglet. I know many people who would be more than happy to help! To get the ball rolling, I asked our Twitter followers for potential names and here are just some of the suggestions:
- Sonic Winglet – @hohummm
- MAXlet – @lyndonJJ
- X-foils – @gordonwerner
- Flying V Winglet – @blgranucci
- Wingly – @Omaha3131
- Finlet – @JetsetSquirrel
- Eaglet – @AnneLipton
- Dual-Katana – @tmount
- Super Duper Wingy Thingy – @jclear
- Schwing – @izham (pronounced like this)
- Vinglet – @bizzyunderscore
- MAX Vortex – @AvGeekJoe
- Scissorlets – @trustaviation
- V-Fin – @Mainefly
- The BoeWing – @bolognafish1 (my favorite, but it might cause confusion)
737 MAX: Conclusion
Will the Boeing 737 MAX revolutionize the market? Nah. It is evolving it however. And small, cost saving, steps seems to be what airlines are looking for right now, to replace their aging fleet.
As Boeing celebrates their 100th anniversary, it is inspiring to know that the 737 was a major player during the first century and will continue to fly millions of passengers well into the company’s second century. Heck, the 737 itself could end up serving passengers well over 100 years — and that is beyond impressive.
Francis Zera contributed to this story.