Which Airline Launched Each Boeing 737 Variant?

Over 10,700 Boeing 737 aircraft have been produced since 1966. The popular narrowbody has spanned across four generations and continues to be a mainstay in the aviation industry. Today, we take a look at the launch customer of each key variant of the type.

Lufthansa Boeing 737-100 In-Flight
Lufthansa helped to get the ball rolling for the Boeing 737 family, with the plane going on to set records in the market. Photo: Getty Images

There are over 20 variants of the Boeing 737, including cargo and military modifications. While many of these versions have proved to be valuable in their own right, in this article, we will look at the core commercial passenger models over the decades.

This year marked 54 years since the 737 took off for the first time. After flying on April 9th, 1967, it has is still a regular sight at airports and a favorite among numerous major carriers around the world.

The one that started it all

Lufthansa became the launch customer of the 737 on February 19th, 1965, after an order was placed for 21 units, which was worth $67 million. Subsequently, the flag carrier of Germany received its first 737-100 on December 28th, 1967, and became the first airline outside of the US to launch a new Boeing plane.

Following a series of test flights, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued Type Certificate A16WE, which certified the plane for commercial flight in December 1967. This was the same month that Lufthansa received its first unit during an event at Boeing Field.

The 737-200 was built with extended fuselage and launched by an order from United Airlines in 1965. The aircraft entered service with the Chicago-based outfit in April 1968.

Aerolineas Argentinas' Boing 737-200 pre
The unit cost of the 737-200 was $5.2 million, which is around $32.2 million today – in comparison unit cost of the 737-100 was $4 million, which is around $30 million today. Photo: Getty Images

The Classic series

What is now known as the Boeing 737 Classic series was launched in 1984. USAir was the airline to receive the first 737-300, which was the middle option of the range, on November 28th. The 737-400 then entered service with Piedmont Airlines in September 1988 after the North Carolina-based company ordered 25 aircraft.

Boeing 737-300 flying.
The 737-300 was the next step in the evolution of short and medium-haul air transportation – here it is on a test flight on February 24th, 1984. Photo: Getty Images

The 737-500, the smallest of the range, was launched in 1987 by Boeing 737 enthusiast Southwest Airlines. The Texan firm introduced the plane on June 30th that year.

The ‘baby’ Boeing has almost reached the end of of its US service life. There are just three routes remaining for the plane, with all of them being international.

By the end of the 1980s, the 737 was the dominant force in single-aisle passenger operations across the continents. Nonetheless, Boeing wasn’t showing any intention of slowing down, and continued to make the most of the momentum.

“By 1987, the 737 was the most ordered plane in commercial history. In January 1991, 2,887 737s were on order, and Models 737-300, -400 and -500 were in production,” Boeing shares.

“By 1993, customers had ordered 3,100 737s, and the company was developing the Next-Generation 737s — the -600, -700, -800 and -900. Boeing certified and delivered the first three Next-Generation models in less than one year.”

Boeing 737-400
Until the rise of the Airbus A320 family, Boeing’s narrowbody aircraft were the major driving force in the aviation industry following the type’s market share growth. Photo: Getty Images

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The Next Generation

Southwest showed its commitment to the 737 family by launching the Next Generation (NG)  program following an order for 63 737-700s. The carrier received its first unit in December 1997.

SAS was another European carrier to launch a 737 model. The Scandinavian powerhouse launched the 737-600 in March 1995. The airline received its first aircraft in September the following year.

SAS Boeing 737-600
SAS has long been a fan of the 737. Photo: Getty Images

The 737-800 replaced the -400 and was a stretched version of the -700. Hapag-Lloyd Flug, which eventually merged with Hapag-Lloyd Express to become TUIfly, launched the plane on September 5th, 1994. The carrier received its first unit in the spring of 1998.

The longest variant, the 737-900, was launched by Alaska Airlines in 1997. The Seattle-based carrier took delivery of its first unit four years later.

Alaska 737-900
Three Alaska Airlines -900s were delivered in May 2001. Photo: Alaska Airlines

The MAX enters the game

The 737 MAX is no stranger to grabbing the headlines over the last decade. After a 20-month grounding between March 2019 and December 2020, the type has been hitting the skies again, region by region.

Before all the attention, it was Southwest that once again showed its faith in the 737 by signing up to become the 737 MAX launch customer in 2011. However, it was Malindo Air that took the first delivery, receiving the MAX 8 in May 2017 before introducing the type in the same month. The high-density MAX 8 version, the 200, was launched by Ryanair in September 2014.

737 MAX
Southwest is one of the MAX’s largest customers. Photo: Getty Images.

Southwest was also expecting the MAX 7 in January 2019 but deferred its orders. Lion Air was the launch customer of the MAX 9, taking on its first one on March 21st, 2018.

737 MAX
Despite high hopes over the years, Boeing is yet to deliver its first 737 MAX 7. Photo: Getty Images

The MAX 10 is also due to arrive at fleets from 2023. United Airlines is billed to be the launch customer of the largest MAX variant. The MAX 10 is 66 inches (168 cm) longer than the MAX 9 and the carrier is excited to add the plane to its extensive MAX fleet from 2024. However, deliveries were initially expected to start from the beginning of 2020. There has been progress for the model this week as the second prototype 737 MAX 10 has completed its first flight.

A lasting legacy

Altogether, with so many offerings and having plenty of adaptability over the years, the 737 continues to be a stronghold in narrowbody operations across the globe. It’s no surprise that major airlines have become repeat launch customers of the program, following the successful relationships built since the type’s introduction over five decades ago.

What are your thoughts about the Boeing 737 family of aircraft? Which variant has been your favorite to fly on over the years? Let us know what you think of the plane and its history in the comment section.