Southwest Airlines, Boeing’s biggest 737 customer, today placed the first order for the smallest version of the new Max series of 737 aircraft.
Southwest converted orders for 30 737-700s to 737-7 Max aircraft. Until the Southwest order, no airline had ordered the -7 version of the upgrade 737-Max aircraft.
Boeing has orders for 1,121 of the larger 737-8 Max aircraft and 164 of the largest aircraft in the 737 Max line, the 737 9 Max.
The Max series of 737s will include new engines and aerodynamic improvements to enhance fuel efficiency. The first 737 Max is to be delivered in 2017. The planes will be built in Boeing’s Renton plant.
Airlines have been moving their orders to ever-larger aircraft in pursuit of efficiency. Southwest only in the last two years has moved up a gauge to 737-800 aircraft from its fleet of mostly 737-700 planes. The 737-800 typically seats about 175 passengers in an all-coach configuration like Southwest’s. The 737-700 has 137 seats in an all-economy arrangement. The seating capacities are expected to be similar in the Max series of 737s.
The order for the 7 Max planes was part of a complicated reshuffling of Southwest’s orders with Boeing. That readjustment generally moves new orders farther out on the timeline, saving Southwest an estimated $500 million in capital expenditures that it planned to make in the next five years.
The Dallas-based airline has compensated in part for moving those orders for new planes to later in the decade by buying 10 used Boeing 737-700s from an unspecified source. Those 737-700s will be delivered in 2014 and 2015.
Southwest has agreed to buy ten pre-owned Boeing 737-700s for delivery in 2014 and 2015 and has deferred 41 737 next-generation aircraft options from 2014 to 2018 and converted them into 737MAX options to beyond 2024. An additional 20 Boeing 737 next-generation firm orders in 2017 and 2018 were converted into 737MAX firm orders in 2019 through 2021.