Boeing says the two largest variants of its 737 MAX program are expected to comprise up to a quarter of total sales as the MAX 9 begins its flight test program.
The MAX 9, a stretch of the 737 MAX 8, took off on its maiden flight from Renton Field in Washington State at 1052 on Friday (US time) and landed at Seattle’s Boeing Field 2 hours and 42 minutes later at 1334.
Boeing said in a statement the first flight tested the aircraft’s flight controls, systems and handling qualities, with Captain Christine Walsh and Captain Ed Wilson at the controls.
First delivery is expected in 2018.
Powered by two CFM International LEAP-1B engines, the MAX 9 has been designed with a maximum range of 3,515nm for up to 220 passengers in a single-class or 178 passengers in a two-class configuration, according to Boeing figures.
Boeing also published a video of the first flight of N7379E on its YouTube channel:
Boeing is currently offering four variants of the 737 MAX, which as well as the new generation engines feature a new flightdeck, fly-by-wire spoilers and new technology winglets compared with the current model 737 NG. To accommodate the LEAP 1B’s 176cm fan diameter, compared with the CFM56’s 155cm diameter fan on the NGs, the 737 MAX also features a taller nose wheel landing gear leg, while the engine nacelles’ trailing edges feature noise-reducing chevron shaping, as on the 787.
The MAX 8, which at 3,515nm range with 162 passengers in a two-class configuration Boeing describes as the “heart of the market”, has been certified and is due for first delivery to US-based Southwest Airlines in May.
The company is also developing the 200-seat MAX 200, which uses the same fuselage as the MAX 8 but trades reduced range for more seats. Ryanair is the launch customer.
The smallest variant, the MAX 7, has been designed to carry 138 passengers in a two-class layout 3,825nm. Assembly of the first aircraft is expected in the final quarter of calendar 2017, with first flight in the first quarter of calendar 2018, Teal said.
In early March, Boeing publicly unveiled a proposed MAX 10X, an aircraft that would be capable of accommodating 230 seats in a single-class layout or 189 seats in a two-class configuration.
The Boeing website lists 3,703 orders for its 737 MAX family of aircraft at the end of March 2017, without breaking the total down into individual variants.
By contrast, Airbus separates out its 5,056 A320neo family of aircraft orders into 55 A319neo, 3,616 A320neo and 1,385 A321neo variants.
Industry estimates suggest the A321neo was outselling the 737 MAX 9 by a factor of five to one.
However, chief project engineer and deputy program manager for the Boeing 737 MAX program Michael Teal told reporters during a dial-in briefing on Friday that market watchers needed to be “careful” with the order numbers.
“When it comes down to predicting the delivery streams, if you look at the deliveries out of the NG market today what are we delivering? We are delivering that 15-20 per cent in that larger market of the 900ERs. With that we expect the family to be very similar going forward,” Teal said.
“Now if you looked only at the orders, I think you have got to be careful. It’s around what we deliver.
“Many airlines order 8s with options for 9s and we don’t tell you about that. We just keep it, we just wait until the airline makes their decision so they have options.
“Our expectation is when the deliveries and the families are growing, we expect that that heart of the market remains as the 8, but that 9s and 10s are going to be between 15 and 25 per cent of that marketplace.”
While yet to be formally launched, Teal said the airframer was currently consulting with airlines about the level of interest in the MAX 10X, adding Boeing was targeting 2020 for first delivery.
“We are doing the product development trade studies right now, taking with customers,” Teal said.
“It’s offerable. It is going out to the customers. We are working with the customers today and really we will determine when we launch that program when the customers show the interest and they are ready to buy the program.
“Sales teams are out working with customers today.”
The 737 MAX 10X would be a 1.68m stretch of the MAX 9, with 1.17m forward of the wing and the remaining 50cm aft of the wing.
As a result, Boeing engineers are working on a larger landing gear to accommodate the additional length of the aircraft.
“We just need a little more extension of that gear to enable the same rotation margin on takeoff as well as the landing performance from a contact margin,” Teal explained.
“We’ve looked at several different design parameters. We are still in what I’ll call that design development.”
“I’ve seen several of our concepts that we are now putting into prototype testing. It’s looking really good and I don’t feel we’re going to have any real issues with it.”
“It’s just getting that final design done.”
The aircraft is expected to reach firm configuration at the 2017, Teal said, with first delivery targeted for 2020 should airlines be prepared to order the aircraft.
In this part of the world, Virgin Australia has ordered 40 737 MAX aircraft. The airline recently deferred first delivery “final quarter of the 2019 calendar year”, from 2018 previously.
Boeing’s other two 737 MAX customers in Oceania are Air Niugini, which put pen to paper in February 2016 for four MAX aircraft arriving from 2020, and Fiji Airways, which has five 737 MAX 8s slated for delivery from 2018.
Teal said production of current model 737 NGs was expected to end in mid-2019.