Boeing’s newest aircraft, the 737 Max 10, rolled out from its Renton, Wash. plant on a foggy, grey morning Friday to cheers from thousands of employees.
Rollouts often make for great marketing events with media, airline customers, and even elected officials on hand. But this unveiling was a Boeing family affair. No media, no fanfare.
Hundreds of 737 Max aircraft remain parked around the world, grounded since March following the second fatal crash of a 737 Max 8 in five months. Boeing’s projection for returning the plane to service keeps slipping. The head of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Stephen Dickson, said Wednesday at the Dubai Airshow that March is a “more conservative” schedule for certifying the plane as safe to fly, Gulf News reports.
The Max 10 rollout could be the last for the 737 family, which began in 1965.
“They’ve brought the 737 about as far as they can,” aerospace analyst George Hamlin tells Fortune.
Ten years ago, Boeing considered replacing the 737 with an all new airplane after rolling out the 787. However, rival Airbus in 2010 unveiled its A320neo, a more powerful and more efficient version of its popular single-aisle airplane. The A320neo quickly picked up more orders than any other new jetliner. Rather than wait for an all new airplane, Boeing opted to put more powerful engines, new wings, and other improvements on the 737, creating the Max series.
The Max series did not originally include the 10. The Max 9 was the largest version planned in the series, but it could not compete for orders with Airbus’s larger A321neo. Boeing responded by stretching the 9 by six feet. The new plane was so long Boeing had to come up with new, telescoping landing gear to keep the Max 10’s tail from hitting the runway during takeoff.
So far, the Max 10 has appeased loyal Boeing customers, such as United Airlines, more than it has won new ones.
“Right now, the A321neo is cleaning Boeing’s clock in that market,” says Hamlin, who runs Hamlin Transportation Consulting in Fairfax, Va.
Boeing has 550 firm orders and commitments for the Max 10 from 20 customers. A company spokesman, Doug Alder, declined to split out orders.
That is a distant second to the A321neo, which has 3,142 firm orders through October.
The 737 Max 10 will next go through system checks and engine tests. First flight is expected sometime in 2020, but no date has been set, Alder says.
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