I knew I would hear that from observers when covering the unveiling of the first Boeing 737 MAX 7 in Renton, WA this week. I get it. Sure, the MAX 7 is the runt of the MAX family, but often runts can grow up and do amazing things, like going fast.
This is going to be one fast plane to fly. The entire MAX family, from 10 down to 7 will have the same CFM LEAP 1-B engines. With the 7 being the smallest and lightest, I am sure it will become a favorite to fly for pilots. Of course being fun to fly isn’t really a great business case for airlines, and so far they haven’t bought many.
Where the entire MAX family has accumulated over 4,300 orders, from 93 customers from around the world, the MAX 7 has only 63 of those orders from four customers in the U.S. and Canada (Southwest has dibs on 30, WestJet has 23, Canada Jetlines has five and ILFC has the final five). Is there a bright future for this airplane? Personally, I hope so.
Let’s dive a bit more into Southwest’s relationship with the plane. As they currently operate about 500 737-700s, I would think they are an obvious 7 customer. Sure, Southwest is moving more towards the MAX 8, but those orders won’t cover the 737-700s that will need replacing in the upcoming years.
Even for the 30 7s that they have on order, they won’t be taking delivery for a while. They plan to take their first one in 2019, then six more soon after, but the other 23 have already been deferred to 2023. Talk about an un-luved runt. I wanted to learn a bit more how the 7 will fit into their future plans and they replied with the following:
“We remain excited to take delivery of our first Boeing MAX 7 in 2019 as planned. We did recently align the MAX 8s and the MAX 7s delivery schedules to match our expected growth while also better aligning the delivery of the MAX 7 for the time period when we expect to have more 737-700 retirements. Configured with 150 seats and all the Customer comforts and operational efficiencies of the 737 MAX family, we expect the MAX 7 will be a good fit for our fleet and network strategy. We’ll be incorporating the first seven MAX 7s into our fleet in 2019 to begin experiencing the expected operating benefits.”
So why is Boeing moving forward with the 7 MAX, without much love? Well, they are hoping that once it gets into service and airlines can see the benefits that the aircraft offers, customers will come flocking.
Maybe, but I think I remember similar sentiments with the 747-8I and we know how that turned out (if you don’t know, sadly not well). Also, there will be some tight competition for customers. Of course you have the recently famous BombardiAirbus CSeries, which doesn’t directly compete, but obviously close enough that it has caused Boeing to worry.
The more direct competitor is the Airbus A319neo, and according to Boeing, the MAX 7 will “fly 400 nautical miles farther than the A319neo, on 7 percent lower operating costs per seat.” I always take these statements with a huge grain of salt, since the MAX 7 hasn’t flown yet and the A319neo hasn’t yet been delivered to a customer.
So there might not be much business love for the 7 right now, but there was sure a lot of love by the employees who help to build the aircraft. The media was able to arrive early to get photos, before Boeing had some employees come out to see their plane. They were excited. Really excited. I mean, these were the people who see these planes day in and day out. Yet, here they were taking selfies and photos of themselves in front of their creation — it was very cool. Number of orders didn’t mean squat — they were proud of their mini-MAX.
Do not get me wrong. I have a love for this plane. Just the fact that it is a runt with not many orders makes me want to love it more. Not to mention that you will see all the excited AvGeeks getting the chance to ride on one of just a few 737 MAX 7s flying around North America.
The bad news is it will be a while before we can fly on one. The first MAX 7 will start test flights here soon and then will be delivered sometime in 2019. The good news is that leaves additional time for some airlines to pick one of these up.