It is almost four years to the day since the program launch in 2017 that the Boeing MAX 10 has made its maiden flight today. That’s a couple of years later than planned, but the reasons for that are obvious. The MAX 10 is the biggest version and has received some 520 orders to date. In this story, we look at where the program stands. The Boeing MAX 10 is cleared for take-off.
Paris Airshow 2017. The weather was as hot and humid as at a regular Dubai Airshow and so was the commercial climate between home-player Airbus and its major rival Boeing. During a brief ceremony at Le Bourget’s auditorium on June 19, then Boeing President Dennis Muilenburg and Boeing Commercial Aircraft President and CEO Kevin McAllister officially launched the MAX 10. “The 737 MAX 10 extends the competitive advantage of the 737 MAX family and we’re honored that so many customers across the world have embraced the outstanding value it will bring to their fleets”, McAllister said.
In just a 10-minutes event, then management Kevin McAllister and Dennis Muilenburg launched
the MAX 10 at the 2017 Paris Airshow. (Richard Schuurman)
McAllister forecasted sales of some 240 -10s during the airshow, but when Boeing wrapped up four days later it left Paris with 361 aircraft orders from sixteen customers. Lion Air ordered 50, Spicejet 40, GECAS and ACG 20 each, TUI Group 18, BOC Aviation, CDB Aviation Leasing, Donghai Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, and Ruili Airlines 10 each, plus a few smaller ones. United Airlines announced a blockbuster order for 100 hundred -10s.
It pissed of Airbus’ Chief Commercial Officer John Leahy as Boeing had beaten Airbus on home turf. Leahy had done his sums, he said, and of 326 announced orders for the MAX 10, 158 were options. And 168 orders were converted orders from different MAX versions to the new model, like United’s conversion from -9s to -10s. That makes only 43 net new orders for the -10, Leahy explained.
His colleague at Boeing, Ihssane Mounir, presented different numbers a couple of hours later. Of 361 MAX 10 orders, 147 were either confirmed or in a high state of commitment, while Mounir admitted that 214 were conversions.
The launch of the MAX 10 is a small miracle
That Boeing launched the MAX 10 in Paris was a small miracle. A year before at the Farnborough Airshow, Boeing wasn’t convinced at all of launching a stretched version of the MAX 9. There were potentially two show stoppers. A bigger MAX would likely need more powerful engines than CFM could offer with the LEAP-1B. And its 66 inch/1.6 meters extra length to 43.8 meters would mean that the -10 would need different gear to place it higher on its wheels and prevent tale strikes.
A year later, Boeing had overcome these issues. CFM confirmed that the LEAP-1B could do the job after all. And the engineers took a look at the design book of the 777-300ER and 787-10. They copied the semi-levered gear that pushes the main gear as long as possible to the runway until rotation without risking a tail strike. More importantly: it fits in the same gear well as the regular MAX gear.
“Other changes include a variable exit limit rating mid-exit door, a lighter flat aft pressure bulkhead, and a modified wing for low-speed drag reduction”, Boeing said.
The levered gear allows the MAX 10 to take off safely without risking a tail strike.
And the gear fits the standard-sized gear well. (Boeing)
As soon as these issues were solved, Boeing started offering the 188-230 seater with a range of 5.955 kilometers/3.300 nautical miles to customers, since then upgraded to 6.110 kilometers with one auxiliary fuel tank. Boeing said this outclassed the Airbus A321LR, which it claimed had only 188 seats and a 5.530-kilometer range. Although Airbus says it has 206 seats and can fly 7.400 kilometers/4.000nm with three extra fuel tanks.
“We have the same number of seats as our competitor, but our costs per seatmile are five percent lower with a bigger range”, Mounir said. “Only thanks to extra fuel tanks they can fly further, but that means extra weight, a higher fuel consumption, and so higher costs. The MAX 10 really is the best aircraft in its class.”
Boeing finalized the design of the MAX 10 in early 2018. When the MAX was grounded after the two fatal crashes of Lion Air in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines in March 2019, the development of the smaller MAX 7, the MAX 8-200, and the MAX 10 was put on a backburner. Boeing’s priorities lay with a safe return to service of the MAX 8 and 9 as soon as possible. Following a thorough review by international regulators and only after the implementation of a number of hardware and software modifications and extra training for crews, the MAX was cleared to return to service by the FAA and Brazil’s ANAC in December last year, while other regulators like EASA followed in January. As of today, the MAX remains only grounded in China and Russia.
MAX 10 will have a synthetic sensor
One of the most critical modifications to the MAX has been that of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), whose interference caused the aircraft to become uncontrollable during the two fateful flights in 2018 and 2019. MCAS had played havoc after it had been fooled by wrong data coming from the single Angle of Attack sensor that was on the original MAX.
A second AoA-sensor has been installed on the MAX 8 and 9 since, but especially EASA has pushed for further system redundancy by adding a supplemental third synthetic sensor. For reasons not fully clear but most likely having to do with not holding up the re-entry of the MAX 8 and 9 into service that much longer, regulators approved that the synthetic sensor will only become on the MAX 10. Its testing will be one of the additional topics of the flight test campaign and certification program. LN744 is the prototype MAX 10 that will do most of the testing. The production list currently shows eleven 10s that have been built.
United Airlines ordered 100 MAX 10s at the 2017 Paris Airshow, although that included
conversions of previous MAX 9 orders. (Richard Schuurman)
Boeing’s order book doesn’t specify MAX sub-versions, which makes it difficult to identify which airline exactly has which version on order. While hundreds of MAX’ have been canceled since the 2019 grounding and the Covid-crisis, the backlog for the MAX 10 seems to have kept pretty solid since Paris 2017. Subject to confirmation, we count 523 orders.
United Airlines still has 100 in the book and is the biggest customer for the stretched version, with VietJet next at 80. Lion Air and flydubai each have commitments for 50, GOL for 30. Virgin Australia has an order for 25, but that one dates back to 2012 and could be in doubt as the airline tries to recover from the pandemic under new ownership.
Lessors Aviation Capital Group and GECAS each have 20 firm orders, with AerCap and CALC 15 each, and BOC Aviation and China Development Bank 10 each. Spicejet has an order for 40 aircraft, TUI Group for 18, and COPA Airlines for 15. Malaysia’s order for 10 was signed in 2016 and we know that the airline is facing a drastic restructuring that includes the fleet. WestJet is listed with 12 orders and Ukraine’s SkyUp with three MAX 10s.
As Boeing has said on numerous occasions, the MAX 8 is the favorite of the family. The 7, 9, and 10 are suboptimal versions that will be good and efficient in certain markets, but not on all. Airbus will always say that the A321neo, LR and certainly the XLR have unrivalled qualities, but not all airlines will need these. Let’s hear from the MAX 10 operators in a couple of years how they have faired with this extended version.
Succesful first flight
On June 18, MAX 10 did a 2 hours 31 minutes first flight from Renton to the Moses Lake area and back to Boeing Field but without touching down. Under the command of Chief Pilot Captain Jennifer Henderson, all systems were tested. She said the aircraft had performed ‘beautifully.’
Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal confirmed that the aiframer will take a careful approach to flight testing and certification of all the different features of the 10. This means that certification and entry into service will happen in 2023. That will be an important year, as in late 2023 the 777-9 should be certified as well.