Oct. 11, 2016, © Leeham Co.: The 11th 737-8 MAX is already on the Boeing production line at the factory in Renton (WA).
This one is for Lion Air, the Indonesian Low Cost Carrier that’s ordered 201 of the airplanes.
Previous 737-8s that already are built are also for LCCs Southwest Airlines of the USA.
The initial line up of customers scheduled to receive the MAXes next year is in stark contrast to decades ago when the names on the sides of the airplanes would be American, United, Lufthansa or Japan Air Lines. It’s illustrative to the changing airline industry.
Southwest will get the first four 737-8s that are now serving as test airplanes, said Jay Culbert, a manager at the plant. Culbert, who was the guide for a tour arranged by Boeing supplier SME for about 200 people, said the first MAX will be delivered in the second quarter next year.
Market intelligence suggests it actually could be in March, seven months ahead of the schedule announced when the program was launched. Whether it’s March or in 2Q, the ahead-of-schedule scheme is a welcome change for Boeing, which delivered the 787 and 747-8 years late and in an industry where Airbus, Bombardier, Mitsubishi and the new entrants COMAC and Irkut are running years behind in their new and derivative airplane programs.
By the time the first MAX is delivered to Southwest next year, Boeing may have upwards of two dozen airplanes completed.
The MAX, of course, is the latest and the last in a long line of 737s. The original 737-100 entered service with Lufthansa in 1968. It was shortly followed by the 737-200 to United Airlines. Together, these are the first generation 737s.
The next series, the -300, -400 and -500, with a new engine, the CFM56, ultimately became known as the 737 Classics. The -200 became the baseline -300. The -400 was a stretch, a simple fuselage plug carrying more passengers. The -500 was a shrink.
The 737-300 was a 104″ stretch from the -200. The -400 was another 120″ stretch from there. The revised Max -7 is just a bit shorter than the -400 is – by one frame bay
The Next Generation -600 (replacing the -500), -700 (the -300) and -800 followed in 1994. Although the -700 remained popular at the time, the -800 eventually became the preferred choice among airlines. The NG had a new wing and upgraded CFM engines.
Boeing stretched the -800 to create the -900, an unsuccessful model that sold only 52. Carry only some 18 more passengers, this simple stretch traded passengers for range. The -900 was superseded by the extended range -900ER. While sales increased, it continues to account for less than 10% of Boeing’s 737 sales.
Boeing launched the MAX in July 2011 after it got word that Airbus was about to land a huge order from American Airlines for A319ceos and A321ceos and neos. Boeing officials pooh-poohed the neo until then as something the market really didn’t want and simply a poor attempt by Airbus to “catch up” to the 737.
In the meantime, Boeing was dithering whether to launch a re-engined 737 or an entirely new airplane. The pending American deal forced Boeing’s hand. The MAX was born.
Culbert said the new CFM LEAP-1B engine is 12% more efficient than the venerable CFM56 it replaces. Boeing gets another 1.5% fuel efficiency from the Advanced Technology Winglets and yet another 1.5% from the redesigned, 787-like tail cone.
This grosses about 15% of the fuel efficiency gains (there are some additional aerodynamic clean-ups for about another 1%). Against this is an offset for additional weight and drag from the heavier engines and pylons.
The MAX cockpit mimics that of the 787, with fewer and larger flat screens.
Boeing’s Renton factory, the only place where 737s are assembled, current churns out 42 NGs a month. This moves to 47 next year, 52 in 2018 and 57 in 2019.
Boeing is considering additional rate hikes of 60-63 a month, the latter being the capacity of the factory.
The MAX is currently being assembled on a new third assembly line sandwiched between the East and West lines. These two are the legacy lines with the current rates. The new Center line, for the MAX, will take several years to match the rates of the mature lines as workers from the labor union, IAM 751, learn the differences between the NG and MAX and become as efficient for the new airplane as they are with the old.
Lean manufacturing and ever-increasing efficiencies cut production time for a single airplane to 10 days, less than half what it was only a few years ago, Culbert said.
On Day 1, an empty fuselage shipped from the Spirit Aerosystems plant in Wichita (KS) enters the Renton plant. Wiring is installed on Day 2 and hydraulics on Day 3. Culbert said the fuselage is lifted by crane on Day 4, rotated 90 degrees. Wings are mated to the airplane, a six hour process, along with landing gear. On the third shift of the day, the airplane is again rotated 90 degrees.
Beginning on Day 6, the final assembly process begins, with the passenger interiors, galleys, lavs, overhead bins, etc. installed. Engines are attached on Day 8. The airplane is ready to roll out of the factory on Day 10 for test flights.
Painting is typically done at Boeing Field, although Renton Airport has two paint hangars, Culbert said.
(Planes now destined for China may see interiors and painting done there, under a new agreement with the Chinese government.)
The MAX will be the last of the long line of 737s. There are nearly 3,500 orders for the airplane, but the MAX 7 proved to be a niche model that sold only two three customers in small numbers before Boeing revamped the design. Instead of being a derivative of the 737-700, it’s now a shrink of the 737-8 with two more rows of seats.
The MAX 9 is officially selling more poorly than the 737-900ER, with about 290 acknowledged sales, but this is deceiving. LNC believes the sales are closer to about 420; Boeing no longer discloses the breakdown between sub-types.
But the Airbus A321neo is outselling the 9 MAX by about 4-to-5 to 1, depending on the timeline and which Boeing number is used for comparison. Regardless, Boeing is studying stretching the MAX 9 into a MAX 10, adding 12 more seats. The final configuration remains unclear. A program launch could come by the end of this year.
The MAX 10 is Boeing’s effort to staunch further defections by 737 operators to the A321neo.
When will a replacement for the 737 come?
This is a matter of intense speculation. Conventional wisdom, and Boeing, suggest entry-into-service will be about 2030. Behind the scenes, Boeing is said to be targeting 2027. Back up seven years for development, and a program launch would be 2023 to as early as 2020. The latter is just three years after EIS for the MAX.