A year after its entry into service with launch operator Malindo Air of Malaysia, the Boeing 737 Max has registered a fleet-wide 99.4 percent dispatch reliability rate, a performance Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president of marketing Randy Tinseth pronounced as higher than “any new airplane entering service.” Speaking with reporters two days after Boeing celebrated the anniversary along with delivery of Xiamen Airlines’s first of 20 Max 8s on order (the airline also holds an order for 10 Max 10s), Tinseth acknowledged changes from the 737NG produced certain “teething problems,” but nothing particularly unexpected over its first 12 months in service.
“We went with things like fly-by-wire spoilers on the aircraft, so there were changes,” said Tinseth. “I think the good thing is, as we looked at it, we don’t think the design changes impacted the other systems or the other parts of the airplane…At 99.4 percent we have nothing to apologize for.” Tinseth added that the company’s target of 99.7 percent by the end of this year appears clearly within reach.
Now having sent to 28 new customers 130 of the narrowbodies, consisting mainly of Max 8s and including less than 10 Max 9s, Boeing has also delivered the airplanes at the planned rate, despite a certain “tightness” in the supply chain. All told, Max jets accounted for between 10 and 15 percent of all 737 deliveries last year and the company expects that proportion to rise to between 40 and 45 percent this year.
“I can tell you, though, that the production system has been tight, especially as we’re producing at these higher rates,” conceded Tinseth. “So the only thing we can do is keep in close contact and [coordinate] with all our supply base. But at this point the program continues to be on track, deliveries are on time, but I will tell you that the supply chain is tight.”
Along with the Max family’s 20 percent average fuel efficiency improvement over the NG, Tinseth spends a lot of time promoting its range advantages by citing, for example, the existence of 24 new routes that extend more than 2,500 nm.
Norwegian flies the longest routes of any Max operator, taking its Max 8s on 3,000-nm transatlantic trips connecting New York with Bergen, Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Shannon, and Providence, Rhode Island with Cork, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Shannon.
“I think the ability to use the North Atlantic and how Norwegian has flown the airplane has been a little bit of a surprise, as quickly as they’ve deployed it on a number of new routes,” said Tinseth. “What I was a little surprised by, frankly, was how our customers in Southeast Asia have flown the airplane…opening up new markets in the Middle East, flying to Japan immediately.”
Having collected firm orders for 4,509 Max jets, Boeing continues to refuse to specify how many of each model it has sold apart from the Max 10, which has drawn orders and commitments for about 400. Tinseth explained that because most of Boeing’s contracts allow for substitutions, final delivery will not necessarily reflect whatever variant appears in current backlogs. Boeing projects that Max 8s will account for between 60 and 65 percent of its deliveries, Max 9s, and Max 10s between 30 and 35 percent, and Max 7s the balance, he added.
“If you look at the 400 orders and commitments that we have to date for the Max 10, about 40 percent are new orders, about 30 percent are conversions from -8s, and about 30 percent are conversions from -9s,” said Tinseth. “So there’s a lot of movement in those original orders, so we’re trying to reflect and trying to message where the market will be, where the deliveries will be, not necessarily where those initial orders are.”