Airline Rapid Growth Plans Hinge on Boeing 737 Max

United Airlines expects to take delivery of two new aircraft every week this year.

The FAA certified the 737 Max in 2017. [Courtesy: Boeing]

Despite two tragic accidents and a worldwide grounding, the Boeing 737 Max has managed to lock in significant orders from some of the world’s largest air carriers.

This week United Airlines announced it took delivery of the 100th Boeing 737 Max to its fleet—making it the second largest operator of the aircraft—just slightly behind European-based carrier Ryanair.

Data from Boeing shows that the airline has ordered 544 aircraft, including 300, which have come in the past two years alone. United said it’s on track to receive two new Max aircraft every week this year. According to Ch-aviation, United’s aircraft order backlog is at 680 aircraft, of which many are being delivered in 2023 and 2024 as part of the airline's rapid growth structure.

Low-cost carrier, Southwest Airlines, has also placed confidence in the Max. The airline was the first to introduce the Max to its fleet in 2017. Today, a total of 514 Max aircraft have been ordered by Southwest which is currently operating 163 of those. Because of its loyalty to the Max, Southwest could once again overtake United as the largest operator in the future.

Overseas, Indonesia’s Lion Air and UAE carrier Flydubai both have orders for 251 Max aircraft. Lion Air currently operates 19 of the aircraft, while Flydubai operates 47 Max jets. Additionally, Ryanair has a current order of 210 Max jets, with 96 already in service.

Part of the Max’s appeal is the aircraft’s longer range and better fuel efficiency, along with the ability to fit more passengers than its predecessor—the 737NG. Its newer engines combined with design changes make the Max jets 14 percent more fuel efficient than the 737NG.

When it came into service in 2017, the 737 Max shared commonalities with the 737NG allowing pilots and ground crew to adapt to the aircraft without having to be certified on a new aircraft type. Pilots would only need to do tablet-based training rather than sim training as if it were a new airplane—something that played into the crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.

But despite a 20-month grounding, the Max has managed to make a comeback as Boeing’s best-selling commercial aircraft. Prior to being reintroduced, several changes were made, including updating operating manuals, repairs to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), and more rigorous pilot training.

Since the return to service, Boeing says the Max is being used in countries all over the world with virtually no incidents, but not without scrutiny from some regulators and the flying public.

During a recent congressional hearing focused on safety and aircraft certification, FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen assured Congress that the Max was not an issue, noting, “I can say categorically that the 737 Max airplane is safe.” 

Nolen also stated that the FAA is continuing to review new versions of the Max, including the Max 7 and Max 10, ahead of its delivery in 2023.

Boeing expects to increase production rates for Max jets to 50 per month by the end of 2026.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia WalshContributor
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

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