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.
A 1000 lbs weight increase can be traded with roughly 0.6% engine SFC for a typical 800nm mission. The weight increase of the MAX therefore wipes out 3-4.2% SFC improvement. A 1% SFC improvement is worth about 1.05% in fuel burn, so the effect of the weight increase on fuel burn would be up to 4.4%.
Airbus announced a weight increase of 1.8t for the neo – this translates to a fuel burn debit of “just” 2.5%. So aside from being limited in the SFC improvement from the engine (compared to the CFM56-7BE) through the limited fan diameter Boeing has to work against another 2% in fuel burn compared to the neo.
Lion Air ordered a total of 195x 737-900ERs from 2007, of which 130 are unfilled, roughly 40% of all 737-900ER orders.
Now Lionair ordered 200x 737-9 MAX, roughly 60% of all 737-9 MAX orders.
As said, Lionair took delivery of 62x 737-900ERs during the last 6 years, about 10 a year. Still 340x 737 deliveries to go.
The US government financed both Lionair deals via their Im-Ex Bank.
Lionair is blacklisted in Europe for safety reasons and its finances amaze me.
Its good that Boeing and the US – Indonesian governments help out Lionair and each other, but as a base for 737-900/-9 revival it seems a little specific.
If we take into account the prices Southwest and Norwegian (also Im-Ex) paid for their new MAX aircraft the market responds seems less then impressive sofar.
However the United order was a good one, although I do not know the contractual details.
500 900ER sales is considered slow? Alaska Airlines is the launch customer? Time to stop reading this article…
AS was the launch customer of the 737-900 standard.
If you look at the order timeline of 900 and 900ER, sales were slow until two years ago.
Standard, sure. but you were clearly talking about the 900ER. And the June 2005 order was never for the standard. It started out as an -800 order and was converted to the 900ER in November 2011.
By the way, why have so many folk bought into (as we have to say) the capitalised Max title? It surely cannot be just because that’s the way the OEM does it (if that were true, just think of the type face in which Coca-Cola should be rendered…). I don’t see BAe Systems being reproduced in capital letters, even though that company presents itself thus (no, they didn’t thank me for pointing out that writing in capitals is SHOUTING…).
My understanding it that initially the new 737 was called “Max” by Boeing. But they seem to have given up on this when they realized that the vast majority of people had adopted the MAX designation. Personally I was ambivalent about this until I decided to go with the flow and write MAX instead of Max.