Boeing's new 737 MAX gets its wings

The newest Boeing aircraft has entered the final assembly stage as it gears up for a 2017 launch. Boeing hopes the new jet's increased fuel efficiency and low operating costs will challenge a popular new aircraft from rival Airbus.

Chris O'Meara/AP/File
In this Thursday, May 15, 2014 photo, a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 takes off from the Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Fla. Southwest will get the first delivery of Boeing's newest jet, the 737 Max, in 2017.

The Boeing 737 MAX has entered final assembly stages in the Boeing assembly plant outside of Seattle. Photos show that the wings are attached to the fuselage, while the tail is still missing.

The 737 MAX is the first of Boeing’s new single-aisle, fuel-efficient line of new passenger jets. The first completed 737 MAX is scheduled to be shipped by the end of the year, and Boeing hopes it will be able to compete with the Airbus’s recent addition, the A320neo. 

According to Boeing, the new aircraft will be 20 percent more fuel-efficient than the company's 737s fleet, currently used by many major commercial airlines, and it will cost 8 percent less to operate than the nearest competitor. Boeing says the new winglets, which feature a curling shape, will offer a 1.8 percent improvement in fuel efficiency over the current 737 inline winglet designs. 

“Seeing the new winglet design we validated in the wind tunnel years ago now on the first new airplane is incredible,” said Keith Leverkuhn, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president and general manager for the 737 Max program to Aviation International News.

Boeing has not specified how the 737 MAX will achieve a 20 percent reduction in fuel use per seat. The company made similar claims in 2012, when it announced its 787 Dreamliner. Some were skeptical of the claims, including Wired, which ran an article on why fuel efficiency improvements in aircraft might be more incremental than airlines suggest.

Boeing is relying on the boost in fuel efficiency, low operating costs, and schedule reliability rating (which sits at 99.7 percent) to make the 737 MAX competitive against rival Airbus’s A320neo.

Airbus unveiled the New Engine Option (neo) family in 2006 and launched the A320neo in July 2014. The neo line boasted similar goals of increasing fuel efficiency and lowering costs and has had a year’s head-start in sales. Airbus reported 4,100 orders in August 2015. Boeing reported 2,869 sales from the 737 MAX during the same month.

The first 737 MAX is scheduled to fly in 2016. Launch customer Southwest Airlines has delivery scheduled for its first MAX in late 2017. Flydubai is also scheduled to receive its own 737 in 2017.

Production is reportedly on schedule for all three new aircraft  Boeing currently has under development – the 737 MAX, the 777x, and the 787-10 Dreamliner.

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