Virgin Australia’s first 737 MAX took to the skies for a test flight this week – but doubts remain as to whether it will be delivered soon.
The MAX 8, VH-8IA, travelled from Renton in Washington state – adjacent to Boeing’s Renton factory – to the planemaker’s facility at Grant County International Airport on Monday, 22 May. Images circulating on social media pages show the plane already painted in Virgin Australia livery.
However, it comes after Boeing told the FAA last month that a problem with a component on “significant numbers” of its in-production MAXs could lead to delays in customer deliveries.
A Virgin spokesperson said the airline only expects a “short delay” to its original arrival date, though Australian Aviation understands the business still has no confirmed date for the plane touching down at its base in Brisbane.
The airline will therefore be forced to push ahead with using its older 737-700 aircraft for the launch of its new route from Cairns to Tokyo (Haneda) in June.
“Due to an issue related to a Boeing supplier, there will be a short delay in the delivery of our first Boeing 737-8 aircraft,” Virgin said in a statement earlier this month.
“Monkey Mia”, 1M002, first @BoeingAirplanes 737-8 for @VirginAustralia has rolled out of paint overnight at Renton. VH-8IA is the first of 25 737 MAX that Australian carrier has on order for their fleet renewal. pic.twitter.com/E8Xf04VuyI
— BFI Watch (@bfi_watch_ca350) May 8, 2023
“As a result of the delay, we will operate our Cairns-Haneda (Tokyo) service using our existing Boeing 737-700 aircraft for a short period, starting from the inaugural flight on 28 June 2023.
“The good news is that Virgin Australia customers will not be impacted, and our schedule of Japan services will continue as planned.”
Boeing is using Moses Lake to store as-yet-undelivered 737 MAX aircraft, with between 100 and 140 of the jets parked at the airfield as of March this year, according to NW News Network.
At present, Bonza is the only Australian carrier to be operating 737 MAX planes, which comprise its entire fleet – Rex operates 737-800s, many of which are ex-Virgin, while Qantas, in late 2021, opted not to place an order for the 737 MAX, instead going with rival Airbus for new A220 and A320 aircraft.
Last month, Boeing told the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that supplier Spirit AeroSystems had advised it of a “nonstandard manufacturing process” used for fittings in the 737 MAX’s aft fuselage that could result in noncompliance with required specifications. This affects a “significant number” of undelivered planes, it said in a statement.
“We expect lower near-term 737 Max deliveries while this required work is completed. We regret the impact that this issue will have on affected customers and are in contact with them concerning their delivery schedule,” the statement read.
“We will provide additional information in the days and weeks ahead as we better understand the delivery impacts.”
Virgin has ordered eight MAX 8 aircraft, all of which are affected by the delay, though its 25 MAX 10 aircraft are not expected to be impacted.