Boeing’s 737 Max 7 flew for the first time last Friday, departing Renton Municipal Airport in Washington state for a three-hour and five-minute mission that saw the smallest of the new family of narrowbodies reach an altitude of 25,000 feet and a speed of 250 knots.

“We got the benefit of flying a really beautiful airplane today,” said Boeing test pilot Jim Webb. “This is the perfect start to the test program for this aircraft. We did a low approach at Moses Lake, tested some of the safety systems and verifications. We were able to shut down the engines and relight them. We really completed the profile exactly as it was written.”

As the third iteration of the new Max family to enter flight testing, the Max 7 will benefit from lessons learned during the Max 8 and Max 9 programs, according to Boeing test and evaluation captain Keith Otsuka. “The real advantage is that we have two models in front of it on this variant,” he remarked. “There are a lot of things we’ve known about the airplane that give us some advantages in the certification program.”

Championed by Boeing as the fastest-selling airplane in its history, the Max family has collected orders for more than 4,300 examples from more than 92 customers. CFM International Leap-1B engines power the family of aircraft and contribute most of the average 14-percent reduction in fuel use and CO2 emissions compared with the 737NGs. The Max 7, in particular, flies roughly 1,000 nautical miles farther than its predecessor, the 737-700NG, while burning some 18 percent less fuel.

Asked to gauge the prospects for the airplane, Webb expressed high expectations. “I think it’s going to be a great addition to the Max family,” he said. “It is small but mighty and the performance will make a lot of customers really happy.”

Southwest Airlines, WestJet, China’s Ruili Airlines, Jet Lines of Canada, and Air Lease Corporation account for the Max 7’s identified customers. It has also drawn orders from two business jet customers and one undisclosed operator. Boeing would not reveal order totals, however. “We do not discuss order numbers because we want to leave it up to our customers to pick the right model mix,” said Haber. “We do not make that information public.”

Earlier this year, and of pertinent note when considering the Max 7’s market outlook, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) ruled in favor of Bombardier in a dispute between the Canadian manufacturer and Boeing over alleged illegal government subsidies provided to the C Series program. Boeing claimed the subsidies allowed Bombardier to sell the C Series at a price far below their cost of manufacture, and thereby damage the prospects for what the U.S. company considers the competing Max 7. The USITC ultimately determined Boeing had not suffered any harm from the sale of 75 C Series CS100 jets to Delta Airlines in a ruling that superseded the U.S. Commerce Department’s proposed imposition of tariffs leveled at almost 300 percent of the airplane price.

Although Boeing publicizes only sales figures for the entire Max line, sales announcements so far clearly reflect a lack of Max 7 activity compared with the three other major variants. Out of the 4,300 Max jets sold, the Max 7 accounts for less than 100, far less than the 10 percent of the single-aisle demand Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president of marketing Randy Tinseth estimates airplanes in the Max 7’s seating category will more broadly collect. For his part, Haber advised patience. “If you look at the market today, there are around 2,500 737-700s and [Airbus] A319s out there,” he said. “There will be a replacement market for that. You say it doesn’t sell. I’d say it doesn’t sell yet.”

The Max 7’s performance capabilities support Boeing’s positive outlook for its place in the Asia market, in particular. “Because of its smaller size and Leap-1B engine, its high altitude and high temperature performance is unmatched,” added Haber. “That means that for any airline that uses the Max 7, it can open up new routes. If they need more seats, then they can go to the Max 8 or 9.”

Plans call for the aircraft soon to begin testing for high and hot conditions in China. “That’s where the Max 7 would work the best,” noted Haber.

Outside of the Asian market, Haber pointed to North America and South America as other strong  markets for the Max 7, while Europe remained questionable. “What we offer to customers is a full solution…with commonalities between the models,” he said. “Ninety percent commonality exists between the four members of the family and we want to give customers a choice of whatever works best for them.”

Boeing plans to continue flight testing of the Max 7 this week. The company delivered 74 Max 8s so far this year and it expects to deliver the first Max 9 to Thai Lion Air on Wednesday. Plans call for delivery of a high-capacity Max 8, known as the Max 200, along with the first revenue Max 7 to enter service in 2019. Meanwhile, the largest of the family—the 737 Max 10—remains on track for introduction into service around 2020.

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