Boeing’s 737 MAX is beginning to take off nicely.
It still has less than half the firm orders of the Airbus A320neo and Boeing failed to convert as many commitments to firm orders during the Farnborough Air Show as it had hoped, but progress is being made.
Perhaps a bit surprising is the strength of the 737-9. Boeing identifies the 737-800/8 MAX as the heart of the market but the -9 has so far picked up 40% of the announced orders and commitments.
Considering the slow sales of the 737-900ER since its introduction, this is a commendable showing. The -900ER has garnered only 15% of the sales in the 800/900 class (less if the smaller -700 were figured in) since the first order in June 2005 by launch customer Alaska Airlines. But following a push by Boeing to increase sales of the airplane that began last year, the -900 collected 34% of the 800/900 sales. This year, the -900ER represents 41% of the announced orders.
Why is the 9 MAX doing so much better?
Boeing has increased the range to nearly 3,600nm (when one auxiliary fuel tank is added), which is more than comfortable for US trans-continental range and West-Coast to Hawaii. It doesn’t quite make unrestricted trans-Atlantic flights, however, and therefore won’t replace the 50 757Ws that are performing this mission today.
The 9 MAX range also makes the airplane more competitive in the European charter scene, where the A321ceo has dominated vs the -900ER.
There is, however, an offset. The entire MAX line is 5,000-7,000 lbs heavier than the NG and so far it doesn’t appear the engine thrust is going to be materially different than that offered on the NG. CFM International, on its web site, lists the LEAP-1B thrust at 20,000-28,000 lbs, which is the same range as the CFM56 powering the NG. Boeing and CFM have yet to define the specific thrust ratings for the LEAP engines. This means, at present, the heavier airplanes will not be compensated by higher-thrust engines. And this affects field performance.
One airline tells us, “What appears to be disappointing for operators planning to use the MAX at its maximum weights (e.g. as a 757 replacement) is that take-off performance for the 737-8 appears to be worse than the -800. It will be interesting to see how much worse the -9 will be to the -900ER which already has a dismal runway performance.
Boeing is keeping the same wing, but increasing weights.
As an example, according to Boeing, a B737-8MAX will be unable to take off from Minneapolis at MTOW. Minneapolis is at 800 ft but its longest runway is 11,000 ft. This makes you wonder about the -9MAX. Will it need 11-12,000+ ft at sea level? The -900ER already needs almost 10,000ft at sea level on a standard day.”
What the MAXes gain in range may be offset by a lack of increased thrust. This is one reason Boeing is going with the Advanced Technology Winglets, attempting to get back some of this field performance. While winglets are advertised as a fuel-saving device, less well known is that they also improve field performance.
Of course, maximum payload operations are few in the context of total missions.
Boeing claims the 737-9, with its one-aux tank range of 3,595nm, is superior to the A321neo, citing a range of 3,110nm. However, this appears to be comparing apples and oranges. Airbus says the range of the A321neo is 3,750nm with two auxiliary fuel tanks and an MTOW of 93.5 tonnes. There have been 90 A321neos ordered to date.