Hot on the heels of the news that the LEAP-powered A320neo had entered flight tests, Boeing has revealed that its 737 MAX programme has also hit a major milestone. The OEM announced yesterday (June 2) that engineers at its Renton site in Washington have started building the first test aircraft for its new narrowbody programme.
Assembly of the wings for the first 737 MAX began last week with skin panels and stringers loaded into the facility’s new assembly line, which will see holes drilled and fasteners installed using automated robots, and the first spars loaded into assembly machines.
The announcement comes close to 19 months after Airbus began assembling its first A320neo and more than seven months after its competitor took to the skies for the first time. Boeing maintains that the MAX programme is on schedule – despite the fact that the programme was launched less than eight months after the A320neo.
While Airbus’ re-engined single-aisle is set to enter service before the end of the year, the MAX – which is to be powered exclusively by the LEAP – isn’t scheduled to take commercial flight until 2017.
Boeing’s new narrowbody programme is also lagging behind in the order stakes.
So far, the 737 MAX has secured just 42 per cent of the firm orders for this new generation of narrowbodies – failing to match the in-service 737 marketshare of 45 per cent, despite offering a 20 per cent fuel burn improvement from the first NG aircraft.
While Boeing is beating its European rival on its home turf – winning 60 per cent of firm orders in North America – and in Africa, the A320neo is proving far more popular in Europe, South America, the Middle East, Australia and the crucial Asia-Pacific market – where Airbus has received 1,096 firm orders compared with the 506 orders for Boeing’s MAX.
Particularly disappointing for Boeing must have been the order for 174 A320neos by Indonesia’s Lion Air – which also ordered 201 MAX aircraft, but which currently operates an all-Boeing fleet – and the decision by Garuda to order 10 A320neos and no MAX aircraft, despite operating a mix of A320s and 737s.
The trend so far has been for more carriers to switch from the 737 to the A320 with this new generation of with their new orders. Boeing will no doubt be hoping that seeing the MAX in the metal will help it to reverse
Top picture: Machine operator Les Nystrom loads 737 MAX wing skin panels and stringers into the new panel assembly line.
Picture above: Operators (left to right, Bin Pham, Marty Deslauriers and Larry Freeman) load the initial parts of the first 737 MAX spars – internal support structures in wings– into an automated spar assembly machine.