Pontifications: Boeing 737-9 roll-out–Nothing Special in the Air

By Scott Hamilton

March 6, 2017, © Leeham Co.: Boeing rolls out its 737-9 MAX tomorrow.

Last week, I received a call from one of the network/cable news organizations asking, What’s special about this airplane?

The answer is: Nothing.

Just a stretch

It’s a straight-forward re-engining of the 737-900ER, itself just a so-so airplane for which there were only 495 orders—a mere 7.45% of the NG sales. (It would be

Boeing 737-9: the first airplane rolls out Tuesday. It’s a poor-selling sub-type of the MAX family.

slightly lower if I include the 737-800-based P8A Poseidon, which I don’t in these figures.)

Boeing doesn’t break out the MAX sales, saying customers can switch between models. But they could do this with the NG, too, and Boeing always broke out these figures.

However, LNC previously confirmed that at YE 2015 the MAX 9 had about 290 sales. Late last year, an aerospace analyst told me Boeing told him that the MAX 9 represented about 9% of the sales. This equates to about 325 aircraft. I think the number is probably, realistically about 100 more if the large order from Lion Air, characterized as MAX TBD, is allocated along the lines of its existing in-service and on-order NG fleet.

Nothing special

Be that as it may, here’s why there is nothing special about the MAX 9, any more than there was anything special about the -900ER.

The over-arching reason is that the -900ER only carries a few more passengers than the -800. There isn’t enough revenue-gain for the airplane’s extra cost.

Also: Field performance is poor. The take-off runs are longer than the -800/8 because the fuselage plugs mean the -900ER/9 can’t rotate as much as the smaller aircraft

Fuel economy and range of the -9 is better than the -900ER. But that’s about it.

And the market has spoken. Airbus sold 1,384 A321neos through January. It also sold 1,736 A321ceos through the lifetime of the program. Against about 325-425 MAX 9s, 495 -900ERs and 54 -900 Standards.

The 3:1 advantage to the A321ceo is consistent with the 3:1 advance of the neo vs the -9, using the 425 figure.

The MAX 10: a band aid

Boeing recognizes that Airbus has the better airplane in the A321neo, at least internally. (The public stance that the -9 is better simply isn’t credible, given the sales histories of both airplanes.)

This is why the MAX 10 is being developed. This brings capacity to within three to five passengers of the A321neo in standard two-class. (It falls 10 short in pack-‘em-in high- density, 230 to 240 pax.)

But the MAX 10 is being done on the cheap: a straight-forward stretch with fuselage plugs. No other substantive improvements. This means shorter range than the MAX 9 and a lot shorter range than the A321neo in its typical configuration using at least one Auxiliary tank.

Boeing hopes to prevent further defections to the A321neo from Boeing customers. It’s a band aid solution at best, and it doesn’t cover the wound.

Tepid reaction

Based on public information and LNC’s own market intelligence, market reaction to the MAX 10 is tepid at best.

Lessors we’ve talked with have zero interest in ordering the airplane. American Airlines, which has a large order for A321neos, has no reason to order the aircraft. We’re told United Airlines isn’t interested—it already has a large order for MAX 9s–but the company is still looking at the aircraft. An airplane with a few more seats adds fleet complexity.

Delta Air Lines doesn’t have any orders for either the Airbus NEO or the Boeing MAX. It’s highly unlikely Delta will take the plunge with the MAX 10, which offers nothing over the MAX 9 (and little over the -900ER operated and ordered by Delta) except more seats.

Alaska Airlines, which is under-ordered for the MAX compared with its long-term replacement needs for the NG, would be a natural potential customer. But with the acquisition of Virgin American, Alaska is preparing to “test drive” the A321neo VA is about to receive. Airbus is betting AS will like the airplane enough to retain the VA Airbus fleet, breaking the Boeing monopoly at AS.

Southwest Airlines, which never bought anything but Boeing, likely finds the MAX 10 too big. It takes too long for the turn-times.

Shifting targets

The MAX 10 originally was conceived with the US market as the top priority. With American and Southwest out, United probably out, Delta a very long shot at best and Alaska in flux, Boeing needs to look outside the US for the best prospects.

China, Asia and now India all have been mentioned in news articles. One problem: field performance of the MAX 10 is a question mark. Boeing wants it to be no worse than the MAX 9. How’s that for a sales point?


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Boeing should forget about the MAX 10 and go straight to designing a replacement for the 737. The MAX 7 has fewer than 70 announced sales, far, far worse than the -700NG (which is winding down at 1,128). The MAX 9 is doing little better than the -900ER.

Boeing won’t regain market share with the MAX 10. Yes, Boeing has more sales potential with existing 737 operators than Airbus has with existing A320 operators (because the ratio of new-to-old isn’t as high with Boeing as with Airbus). But some 737 operators may just decide to retain the NG fleets longer with the expectation Boeing will take the jump to a new airplane, rather than ordering an interim solution.

The only way Boeing will take the lead over Airbus is to launch an entirely new airplane. This resets the competitive clock to zero. Commonality, except for cockpits, won’t be an issue.

The 787/747-8 experience was costly and traumatic. But these are in the past.

It’s time for Boeing to be bold again.

51 Comments on “Pontifications: Boeing 737-9 roll-out–Nothing Special in the Air

  1. Issue is that if Boeing goed bold and openly bites the bullet and goes for an entirely new competitive aircraft the next 5 years are going to be very tough. Tough as in airlines cancelling MAX orders as much as they can.

    Apart from that is there technological breakthrough technology that Airbus can’t use a few years later in a slightly better design?

    I agree with Scott, this may have higher priority than a MoM. Trying a design that can carry up to 240 seats/3500NM might get it outperformed under 200 seats. Where the bulk of the market is.

  2. It would be interesting to see if one of these two goes for a dual aisle “narrow body”. I wonder if a case/solution can be made/found where the time saved by embarking/disembarking the aircraft offsets the extra fuel costs of a larger fuselage.

    • embarking/disembarking is a logistical problem that can be fixed in scope of ground facilities.
      ( same with the apparent lack of willingness to fix aircraft stand size issues there. Changing infrastructure is much cheaper than using compromised airframes forever.)

    • Wouldn’t the embarkation/disembarkation time issue be more easily addressed with a single aisle but by using both front and rear doors? Many wide-body gates already have two jet bridges.

      • That would be double trouble, passengers from back entry going forwards and those forward going back.
        Theres a very good reason to use a single bridge for entry and only a second if you have an upper deck. In theory you could board a twin ailse from two bridges if they were separated strictly.
        Its the filling up the overhead baggage that takes the time, they sit down. they get up

        • Ryan Air deplanes and boards from both ends using stairs. No issue at all with boarding time and getting people seated ( revenue and profits seem to be very OK. ( looks like there is an obvious reason why trains have more doors and the duration of most halts can be short.)
          I don’t think that customers in the US are that much more “limited”.

        • On a 777, AC boards business class using the first door and economy using the second. I don’t see why you couldn’t board rows 1-20 of a single-aisle aircraft using the front door and 21-40 using the back one. There might be some confusion, but still faster than boarding everyone using the front door only.

  3. With perceived technology for the next few years, I would be so bold as to suggest that it is going to be impossible to come up with a better A320 at an affordable price. Better to keep the existing order book and havea re-think of where the market will go. MOM perhaps, but development costs will be the killer.

  4. Bold? That word left the Boeing dictionary long ago. They only engineering they do now is financial.

    • They went really bold on the 787 and got burned. Right now they are still recovering and need a steady income stream which the MAXes provide even if they are nothing special.

  5. Hi Scott, don’t mince your words, this is the most editorial I have ever seen you. I know you like to air opinions (or should I say pontifications) but this time there is no obfuscation. Are you putting the NSA ahead of the NMA/MOM in terms of priority?i

    • @Sowerbob: I believe Boeing must do MOM/NMA and NSA to regain its preeminent leadership. NMA has to come first (2018 launch) and NSA shortly after (2020). But I’m not holding my breath. Launching NSA in 2020 will negatively impact MAX sales, ROI. It would be a bold move. And as another reader commented, “bold” no longer seems to be in Boeing’s vocabulary.

  6. I would also imagine that airbus already has the plans for an a321 or a stretch to a322 with new wings (possible composit) that could eis way before a 797 clean sheet.
    With boeing playing catch up, im kinda guessing airbus is holding most of the cards atm and sitting back to see what they have to do to counter!

  7. Assuming MAX slots are filled or likely to be filled far enough into the future at a suitably profitable prdouction rate, I still think likely step change points on propulsion and structures mean Boeing’s near term objective should be to acquire Bombardier (or just the C Series is this is possible). Take the time necessary to integrate and better resource the business while ramping up the R&D for the MOM/xxx/yyy aircraft to fit above it so that they can launch the project as soon as the technology readiness on planforms/materials/propulsion, maturity on their existing all-electric architecture etc., infrastructure (eg widespread CDA, free route airspace) and market upgauging come to them. Try to influence the regulations along the way so that the A320 struggles to compete in any current or derived form, in the way extended over water twin operations allowed the 777 to trounce the A340.

    • Of course the right time to acquire the C-series was 2-3 years ago, but I agree with the idea and sort of wonder why Boeing didn’t come to the rescue rather than Quebec and the Canadian federal gov’t. Doubtless Quebec/Canada would have been motivated to increase their help so as to keep the C-series at home should B have done this, but it would seem to be great for B.

      Trouble is they would have to admit that the 737NG and MAX were (are) not the best possible single aisle aircraft available.

      Canada has a smaller population and economy (GDP) than my state (CA).
      I tell my Canadian relatives (who are not aircraft buffs) how proud the should be of their (little) country for being able to make a state of the art transport, the C-series (the what they ask?). Think of China and Russia’s difficulties in this endeavor.

      So, while I think this would be good for Boeing, I hope the C-series stays where it is and has the success it deserves.

      • I can’t wait to fly in the c-series! It’s good to se Canada and Brazil keeping the big boys on their toes.

  8. Wonder if Airbus will/are considering a stretch of the A320 to somewhere halfway between the 320-1 (~3.5m stretch/+20pax) to match or be slightly bigger than the 737Max8 which appear to be near the “sweet-spot” in the current single aisle market?

    It could potentially use the A321 wing and lading gear to facilitate higher MTOW, MLW, range or higher seat density variants. There are several engine/thrust options available to Airbus.

    The A319 market has grown into the current A320 while the A320 is start getting to “small” for it’s initial market, the A321 on the other hand is near the upper limit of the single aisle capacity for short haul when it comes to airport turnaround times etc.

    A new wing (composite?) could give a further lease of life to the A320X family for many years to come. Could this force Boeing to make a move in the NMA/MOM market?

      • There are small modifications to the 321 wing enhancing field performance (some +4 square metres surface area) for the CEO version as far as I am aware. Don’t know if these changed with the NEO’s?

        • trailing high lift is different ( single slotted to double slotted flaps.) fuel distribution and tankage arrangement too.

    • As you noticed the market has moved from A319.5 over A320 to now A321.5 ( Airbus expects to deliver 50% A321 RSN. Expect demand to traverse to A321 centric faster than it moved to A320 center)
      If you create an intermediary size for availability ~2020..22 its potential market will be closing already. … And you would put real pressure on Boeing which might provoke Boeing go for competing in an even more asymmetric fashion. Make America Great Again, no holds barred.

      • At what size do operational practicalities’ say this is as big as the single aisle can go?

        During the next 10 years I can see that there will be an increasing demand for single aisles around the 180-210 seat mark while there could be a growing demand for a 220 – 250 seat fuel efficient narrow twin-aisle (“767-type”) short and medium haul aircraft. The current market for a clean sheet MOM is most likely to small at the moment.

        My bet, Boeing to launch a “767MAx” where Airbus has no realistic short term answer followed by a clean sheet new Single Aisle leaving the A321 size market for the interim to Airbus while taking over the Twin-Aisle market (777-8/9/10, 787-8/9/10, 767MAX) where Airbus is “struggling”?

        Then come in for the kill in the Single Aisle Market when the A320/1 is ageing an Airbus don’t have the cash-flow to react.

        The 737MAX9/10 offerings are so poor Boeing must be playing poker? If not, they have lost the plot.

        • “At what size do operational practicalities’ say this is as big as the single aisle can go?”

          The B757 was bigger and even stretched to the 757-300.
          The 737-10 is 145ft while the 757 versions were 155 and 179 ft repectively.
          The limits are the ground clearance and the wing capacity and at the longer fuselages the engines are much more powerful (40-44K)

          I think the Max 10 is the practical limit for the 737 without some major and expensive changes

        • Airbus actually has already an answer to the 767max: It is called 330neo. Besides this, Airbus agressively marketed the 330-200 (ceo) as reginal version to China and Saudi Arabian Airlines.

          I still don t see turnaroud times justifying the additional drag of the bigger fuselage for the MOM. Even if, I can t see the business case for NEW planes: for the few airports that turnaround time is a real issue, it might be better to buy and refit used, but still young 767s to 2-4-2 and used 330s to 3-3-3. Please consider that 767s and especally 330s will become available in huge numbers as soon every 3-4 years 1000 787s, 330neos and 350s will be delivered.

          • The A330-800’s empty weight is >30 Tons heavier than that of the 767-300 which have slightly lower passenger capacity but requires engines with 20% less thrust for typical 2-5 K-Nm sectors.

            What can an A330-800/900 do what the 787-8/9’s can’t do? (The NEO’s listed prices are actually higher than the equivalent 787’s?). It wee’s me off because I am an Airbus “fan”.

            If the much lighter A300-600 could be “re-incarnated” with the latest NEO updates and new 60K-Lb engines (GTF’s?) the MOM game could be on! This will however cost big bucks to do?

            BUT, a medium haul “787-8” with ~60K-Lb GTF engines and new wing with folding wing “tips” will be mighty difficult to beat in the air and on the ground.

          • “If the much lighter A300-600 could be “re-incarnated” with the latest NEO updates and new 60K-Lb engines (GTF’s?) ”

            There is an interesting tidbit of info on the Wikipedia page for the A330. A projected A330-100 ( ~A300-600 size) would have been 6% more fuel efficient than that A300-600.

            to channel Stalin: big wings present a quality on their own.

  9. Every United 737-900 that I have taken requires an extra 10 minutes after landing at the gate for “weight balancing”. Travelers are required to stay in their seats while the rear cargo is removed, or a jack stand to be put in place in order to allow for deplaning without having the aircraft tip nose-up. Manpower and costs / traveler frustration, how does Boeing compensate for this?

    • Just trying to understand, where exactly had Boeing been bold with the 777?
      Airbus came out with the A330 a couple of years earlier so large twin with glass cockpit and FBW was already done.

      Is it the deal they pulled off with GE or the fact that it is the largest twin?

      • The 777 grew from a 767X to a long range, high capacity very flexible aircraft. The boldness was to listen and do what Tim Clark wanted, making an aircraft in its -300ER form with so much range range and durability that it killed the 747-400, A340-600, A380-800.
        Boeing can ask Alan politely to come back and do the MoM-797.

        • So Tim Clark ordered both the 777-300ER and the A380 ? It was just the existing 300 model with GEs new engine that made the difference. For those airlines flying the 300 & 200ER model the step up helped rather than a stand alone large plane like the 380.

          • The 777-300ER is very flexible, just see how Emirates is using it on short, middle and long routes. It can take the beating better than anything before it. The A300, DC-10, L-1011, 767 was intended for the same cycling from 1hr jumps to trans Continental to trans Atlantic, but their Engines and structures could not really econmically take the cycling. The A330 comes Close on short routes but it is not the same long range Aircraft. The 787’s are just long range Aircrafts. We will see how the 787-10 will be used and its high cycling economy.

      • Well the 777 was the first aircraft designed entirely on CAD and the first to have a fibre optic network in the avionics. Really though where it was boldest was making it the biggest, longest range twin (which it still is) and really starting the decline of the 4 engine crafts. Those massive engines were the largest, most powerful, ever hung on an airliner.
        It was a brilliant design as it sales and massive profits generated testify .

  10. So what could a clean sheet design offer that is better than the A320? A slightly wider cabin to allow faster ingress/egress? A new wing made out of carbon, possibly of two sizes for short and medium haul? Some carbon/AlLi within the main build to reduce weight? FBW? It is difficult to see where the massive advance is going to come from.

    I am with Woody, make BBD/ Canadian govt an offer they can’t refuse. That way you get a replacement for the MAX 7/8 and can concentrate on a NMA as the replacement for the MAX 9/10/11(?).

    This way Boeing bookend the A320 and find the largest niches to optimise sales. Further Airbus cannot easily counter this move with the existing A320 but would be forced to address both aircraft with new models or risk losing the market.

    • Of course Airbus can put a new wing, LDG, stretch on the A321, creating a 322. But it would take time, money, 5 yrs? We have already seen design prototypes of new NB wing box technology.

      IMO the real joker Airbus keeps under the table, is the A320.5 discussed above.


      Slightly (2 rows) larger than the 737-8, using A320NEO as base. Could be done quickly, cheaply and would rob the MAX off it’s few selling points; the 737-8 being 2 rows bigger than A320.

      It would be a rock in the pond though, forcing Boeing to launch a, no doubt great, NSA. Airbus has more interest in continuing the current 60-40% marketshare, probably a 70-30% revenue share (moving to 50% A321) in the NB segment.

      • Most likely the LH, AF and BA spec A322 with Al-Li fuselage, PW1140G engines and carbon wing is in the Airbus Catia computers already waiting for Boeings move.

      • indeed! 100% agree, I actually wonder, if they could start building it and it would only become public, once certification is on the way and clients get the option to upgrade from the 320 to 320 1/2 from MSN xxxx onwards.
        Simple 3 row stretch of the 320neo would be the perfect 198 seater with 320ceo range.

      • I know you have touted the 320.5 for a long time. It seems to make perfect sense as a MAX 8/200 competitor. What I cannot accept is that Airbus are stringing Boeing along with a slightly uncompetitive existing 320. If they have plans to go to 60 a month they will need every competitive advantage the can get, especially in a future weak market.

        Boeing will eventually do the NSA and whether they do or not Airbus must have their own version in the outline planning stage. I think that after the WB segment being the main point of focus (apologies BBD), we could see a flurry of activity in the NB/MOM segment starting in a couple of years time. Who will make the killer app?

  11. Wow Scott!!!! Telling Boeing to be bold??? Thanks for this pontification, you too are getting bolder in your assessments of Boeing. Far more than “Nothing Special” this Monday!!! Enjoy the rest of your bold week.

  12. Well written article.
    Does Boeing have to have a critical mass in the future to stay competitive with Airbus? If so, they need a critical mass of their assets going to new and future programs.

  13. While the C Series would be an excellent addition, it is not going go compete with the A321, and how good a stretch 500 would do against the MAX of NEO is ?

    There is nothing wrong with Boeing engineers (other than demoralized, a new program would solve that fast) .

    The best employees in the world is limited to what they are allowed to do by management (yes you can kick the aircraft skin and dent it out but you sure can’t go outside the fuselage)

    It management that is the issue, plane and simple.

    So what they are saying by their lack of actions, we are afraid the management will screw it up again.

    So they act like a cat in a litter box scattering stuff everywhere hoping they can survive long enough to get their golden retirement.

    If there was a time and a case for Transformational Leadership this is it.

  14. As in every competitive business,

    “Develop, or Die. Choose.”

    Boeing seems to have been put off development by the 787 program costs. They, meaning Boeing’s investors too, need to find a way of forgetting about that.

  15. I do like this strategy, for Boeing to acquire the CSeries. With that, there would be a very efficient and modern offering on the lower side of the single aisle market. Develop with the existing Bombardier engineers immediately a CS500 and have the Boeing engineers start on the MOM/NMA to fill the now bigger gap between the CSeries and the 787-9. This new NMA should have commonality (Cockpit and more) with the CSeries as far as possible.

    It would give the NMA a much better value proposition and a much clearer profile, instead of now being neither fish nor bird (as we say in German).

    But yes, that would be a very bold move, and burying the 737MAX just at EIS is very hard to justify.

    • Boeing have been caught resting on their laurels for far too long.

      One senses now that for Boeing to simply get level with Airbus they’d have to blow a gasket simply to equal the A320 family. One also senses that Airbus can make a few minor and valuable additions to their current design anytime they want.

      All this is saving Airbus the vast amounts of R&D that it would normally take to achieve a position of market dominance in the face of stiff competition; Boeing are simply giving them the market, they aren’t competing.

      Furthermore, even if Boeing launched an entirely new design they’d really have to go some to beat the A321neo; CF, fancy stuff, etc. That kind of moonshot project didn’t go too smoothly last time they did that. Meanwhile the A350 program ran astonishingly smoothly, and one would rate Airbus to come up with a CF A320 replacement with comparatively few problems. If that’s what happened that would leave Airbus with the best name in the market (“What’s a 737?”), and first-to-market privileges.

      Boeing really needed to do something a long time ago, but now its urgencies multiply so the time pressure on any future development is going to be immense. It needs what dwindling sales it has to support the development program for the future. If it ends up with zero sales, that development program becomes very expensive.

      And if Airbus did the unimaginable – announce their own CF A320 replacement – that would simply heap on woe and misery onto Boeing. It could be a knock-out blow.

      The reason why it could be a knock out blow is to do with how CF airframes age. AFAIK, the don’t age. There’s no such thing really as fatigue; they’re either “as good as new” or “damaged beyond repair”, nothing in between.

      So if you don’t damage it, it’s as good as new. Thus it is possible that whatever CF airframes get sold will hang around in the industry far longer than their aluminium predecessors. There should be no particular reason to scrap an airframe based on hours flown. There’s every chance that an airline could simply refurbish their airframes and fly them for another 10, 20 years, scrapping them only if the fuel savings offered by a replacement were worthwhile.

      So, if Airbus deliver a CF A320 replacement first and in vast numbers, these aircraft could be flying for a very long time. And if all the airlines have already bought all the aircraft they need from Airbus, to whom exactly would Boeing be looking to sell their own CF 737 replacement?

      Having said all that, there’s clearly something in the 737. Ryanair have a big fleet of 737s and make a ton of cash from operating them, more than most other airlines. How does that work? It indicates that the cost and performance of the aircraft is not the most significant factor affecting company profitability.

  16. It seems like at least one lessor (Air Lease) is a big fan of the 737-10 concept: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-07/boeing-s-longest-737-max-can-t-debut-soon-enough-for-one-buyer

    I think all of this hand-wringing about Boeing needing to replace the 737 ASAP is overblown, to say the least. If the 737-10 performs as expected, Boeing should be more or less set through 2030. I do hope they find a solution that doesn’t require a tail-stand, though. Having to wait to deplane is rather annoying.

    • Adam, do you really believe Boeing would be satisfied with between 30 and 40% of the narrow body market for another 13 years?

      As for Air Lease Corp., have they actually ordered any Max 10Xs? And if so, how many? More importantly, are there any other customers out there for the Max 10X?

      Interesting article. According to it, the MOM should be entering market in 2024, assuming it is accurate about the Max10X debut in 2020 . “Boeing is also plotting an all-new family of aircraft that would enter the market about four years after the Max 10X and would seat between 225 and 260 passengers –”

      Seems a bit optimistic to me but it would be great if it happened. That would mean a launch some time in the next year or so. I believe Airbus would want to, if not have to, react to that. Said reaction theoretically already having been in development, I would hope.

    • I think Air Lease has ordered over 150 A321CEO, NEO’s and LR in recent years and probably want more. It doesn’t help getting the right price when there really isn’t a credible alternative. Buyers hate that. Only tactic is to suggest you are not really interested in the product anyway. When everybody knows you need them, that sucks too.

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