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Boeing's 737 MAX takes center stage at Farnborough, even as biggest model faces delay

July 19, 2022
5 min read
Boeing 737 MAX 10 Farnborough-1
Boeing's 737 MAX takes center stage at Farnborough, even as biggest model faces delay
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The MAX is back.

Boeing's 737 MAX took center stage by the second day of the Farnborough Airshow outside London, with several high-profile orders as the U.S. planemaker struggles to overcome a troubled rollout and certification delays.

Boeing opened the show Monday morning by finally confirming what was perhaps the worst-kept secret in aviation: an order from Delta Air Lines for 100 of the largest of Boeing's current single-aisle products, the 737 MAX 10, along with options for 30 more.

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The planemaker, soon to be headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, also finalized a previously announced deal on Monday with Japan's All Nippon Airlines (ANA) for 20 737 MAX 8s with options for 10 more. ANA also said it was converting two outstanding 777-9 passenger orders into 777-8 Freighters.

On Tuesday, Boeing announced an order from 777 Partners, a private equity firm that owns stakes in several airlines, for 30 of the high-capacity 737 MAX 8-200 variant with options for 36 more. Coupled with earlier orders, that brings 777 Partners' order book potentially as high as 134 MAX aircraft, if the options are exercised. The investment firm has ownership stakes in Canadian ULCC Flair and new Australian carrier Bonza.

Also on Tuesday, Boeing finalized an order for 12 additional 737 MAX 8 jets to airplane lessor Aviation Capital Group, adding to 22 previously ordered.

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It was a relative home run for Boeing during a somewhat quiet Farnborough airshow as the company works to overcome lingering doubts about the aircraft stemming from two fatal crashes of 737 MAX aircraft, one each in 2018 and 2019, which killed 346 people. The MAX was grounded for nearly two years as Boeing redesigned the plane's flight control system and the FAA scrutinized, and eventually recertified, the type.

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Notably, the Delta deal is for the MAX 10, the largest, and newest, variant of the aircraft.

The MAX 10 is still undergoing the certification process with Boeing and the FAA. The planemaker has said it expected to certify the plane by year's end, a timeline with a renewed sense of urgency.

A 2020 law that goes into effect at the end of this year requires all newly certified plane types to have a new type of cockpit alerting system. Adding that system to the MAX 7 and -10 models would be costly for Boeing and would negate the variants’ commonality with previous 737 MAX and NG models, a major selling point for the plane. In essence, it would be considered a different plane type rather than a variant.

Related: Boeing finds launch customer for 777X freighter

If the plane is not certified by year’s end, Boeing would need Congress to waive the requirement in order to be able to sell the variants without the new system, although the Delta order could add pressure on Congress to issue the waiver or grant an extension. The MAX 7 is further along in the certification process than the -10.

That timeline appeared to have slipped into 2023, industry publication The Air Current reported late Monday. A 2023 certification would mean that Boeing would require Congress to waive the EICAS requirement for the model, which appeared likely.

Boeing has also been bereft by delays related to its newest aircraft, the 777X, which was on display at the airshow. Despite originally targeting 2020, that model's certification looked likely to drag into 2024, with deliveries not starting until early-2025. Emirates, one of the most prolific customers of the 777X, has repeatedly expressed frustration over the delays.

Boeing is also still struggling to resume deliveries of its 787 Dreamliners following manufacturing defects being discovered, although Boeing Commercial CEO Stan Deal implied that the planemaker was "very close" to restarting.

During the show, Boeing also secured several deals for 737-800BCF converted freighters, and sold five additional 787 Dreamliners to aircraft lessor AerCap.

Boeing's relative success during the first two days of Farnborough, even despite the numerous negative issues, was especially notable in comparison to rival Airbus, which only announced one sale by Tuesday evening: Delta Air Lines firming up options for 12 additional A220-300s.

Brazilian regional jet-maker Embraer secured two orders on Tuesday: One with Canadian airline Porter for 20 additional E195-E2 jets, converting options from a 2021 order, and one with Alaska Airlines regional carrier Horizon Air for eight E175s with options for 13 more.

To Boeing, the handful of MAX sales were a hard-fought win, making up a significant portion of about 1,000 orders since the type was recertified in late-2020.

Boeing's Deal said he was taking it as a sign that things were getting closer to normal in the single-aisle duopoly between Boeing and Airbus.

"I think you can check the 'reboot' box," he said during a question-and-answer session following the Aviation Capital Group announcement, referring to the post-crash work fixing and recertifying the airplane and working to regain customer confidence. "Now we're just in the normal Boeing-versus-Airbus competition for customers' business."

Still, it's too soon to declare Boeing the winner of Farnborough. The show continues through Wednesday, and both major planemakers have plenty of time to announce new orders.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.