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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Southwest orders the 737MAX


Southwest orders the 737MAX
For the third time in a month, Boeing has confirmed a massive order for new aircraft. November saw a huge 777 order from Emirates and a massive 737 (NG and MAX) order from Lion Air of Indonesia. This time, it is Southwest Airlines that has signed on the dotted line - for 150 737MAX and 58 737NGs. The deal also includes options for 150 additional MAXs. With this order, Southwest will also become the official "launch customer" for the 737MAX, though other airlines have already committed to it. Southwest will be the first to receive a 737MAX.

Aside from a handful of 727s operated in the 1970s and early 1980s, Southwest has been an all-737 airline since its formation - though it has historically operated only four of the nine 737 types, the -200, -300, -500, and -700. Southwest was also instrumental in the changes that modernized the 737 in 1984 (the -300) and again in 1998 (the -700/NG). It currently operates a massive 565-strong fleet of 737s, not counting the 52 737s operated by newly-purchased AirTran. Earlier this year Southwest announced that it would expand to the 737-800, allowing it more flexibility at slot-restricted airports such as La Guardia. Boeing's first teaser picture of a Southwest 737MAX has two over-wing exits, indicating a 737MAX-8.

That in mind, Boeing's Jim Albaugh commented on the relationship between Boeing and the airline in the official announcement:

"Southwest is a special Boeing customer and has been a true partner in the evolution of the 737. Throughout our 40-year relationship, our two companies have collaborated to launch the 737-300, 737-500 and the Next-Generation 737-700 – affirming the 737 as the world's preferred single-aisle airplane. As launch customer for the 737 MAX, Southwest, Boeing and the 737 continue that legacy."

As the 737MAX deliveries come online, three types will exit Southwest's fleet - the aging 737-500, of which the carrier maintains only a small sub-fleet of 25, the 737-300, and the 717-200s inherited from AirTran, which will likely not have an ongoing role in the combined carrier.

Seen here is a brand-new 737-700 (N957WN, msn: 48158) returning to BFI on a test flight. Delivered in May, Southwest has taken delivery of 17 737-700s in 2011, through November, with two more likely to deliver this calendar year.

Photographer: Alex Kwanten

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