Boeing Co.'s newest and smallest 737 Max aircraft took flight for the first time, in blue skies, and a crowded and overcrowded market.
The take-off, at 10:17 am Friday by the Boeing factory on the outskirts of Seattle, was characteristically drama-free for the third of the four planned models of the Max family. The plane landed at Boeing Field at 12:59 pm
The latest Boeing updates from its 737, which date back to the mid-1960s, have been largely fulfilled in a timeline drawn up years ago, even when the The manufacturer pushes the single aisle output to record levels.
But the outlook for the new plane, the Max 7, is foggy. Sales have been marked as low cost operators that migrated to larger and cheaper models. Even Southwest Airlines Co., the launch customer of the Max 7 and the larger operator of the 737-700, the jet's predecessor, is part of the trend. The Dallas-based company has ordered 30 Max 7 and 210 from its big brother, the Max 8.
Boeing, based in Chicago, responded to the two largest customers of Max 7, Southwest and Canada WestJet Airlines Ltd., by stretching the fuselage of the narrow-body airplane to seat 138 people, a dozen more than originally planned. The new model also flies further than other Max models or their competitors. With a range of 3,850 nautical miles, the new jet should be able to fly directly from Dallas to Honolulu.
The competition is fierce. New models from the Brazilian Embraer SA and the Canadian Bombardier Inc. are competing for sales in the same segment of the market: jets with capacity for between 130 and 150 pbadengers. [Airbus SE] France has almost granted sales for its A319neo as it prepares to take control of Bombardier's C Series through a joint venture forged last year.
|Model||Seat capacity||Range (nm)  Boeing 737 Max 7||138-172||3.850|
|Airbus A319neo||140-160||3.750  Bombardier CS300||130-160||3,300|
|Embraer E195 -E2||120-146||2,600|
Boeing has aligned eight customers for its model so far, including Ruili Airlines , based in China, although it will not disclose sales totals, Jeff Haber, Boeing regional director of product marketing, told reporters on Friday. The Chicago-based manufacturer plans to target airlines that need superior engine performance for humid climates or high-altitude airports, and will carry out so-called "hot and high" tests for the Max 7 in China.
The avalanche of the new aircraft could rekindle airline interest in the category, especially if fuel prices rise, said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace badyst at Teal Group.
"It could be the Max 7 stays in a small niche," he said. "Or maybe the Embraer and C Series jets stimulate the 130-seat market – it's a notch in the 100-seat no-man's land."