Boeing says the development of the 737 MAX is progressing on schedule as work begins on the wings for the first test aircraft.
The company said on Tuesday (US time) its Renton production facility has started assembling the wings of the updated, re-engined and more fuel efficient model of the existing 737.
“Machine operators loaded 737 MAX wing skin panels and stringers into the new panel assembly line that uses automation to drill holes and install fasteners in the upper and lower wing panels,” Boeing said in a statement.
“Mechanics also loaded the initial parts of the first 737 MAX spars – internal support structures in wings – into automated spar assembly machines.”
Boeing said the wings would be attached to the first 737 MAX fuselage on the new central line at the Renton final assembly later in 2015.
The new production line specifically for the 737 MAX was designed to allow production of the current 737 models to continue at a rate of 42 a month while the build process for the MAX was developed.
Boeing has previously flagged increasing the production rate of its top-selling model to 47 a month in 2017 and 52 a month from 2018.
The first 737 MAX, which competes mainly with the re-engined Airbus A320neo in the single-aisle market, was on track for first delivery in third quarter of 2017, Boeing said. First flight was expected in 2016.
There have been 2,720 orders for the 737 MAX from 57 customers worldwide.
“Employees in Renton are the best in the world at building single-aisle airplanes and now this world-class team is building the future with the first 737 MAX,” Boeing vice president and general manager for the 737 MAX Keith Leverkuhn said in a statement.
“Achieving this milestone on schedule is a testament to the success of the 737 and our integrated design and build team.”
Virgin Australia has 23 Boeing 737 MAX 8s on order, with deliveries to start from 2018.