The Boeing 737 MAX Will Replace Some Widebody Routes Once Operational Again

When the Boeing 737 MAX hit the skies, it was a revolutionary plane. It flew further than its predecessors, and with a lower fuel burn, enabling airlines to open new routes and be more flexible with their services. Some even substituted widebody services for the fuel-efficient narrowbody, and we can expect to see more of the same when it returns to service this time.

737 MAX
The 737 MAX could be used in the place of some widebody routes. Photo: Getty Images

The MAX will be back

The clock is ticking on the return to service of the Boeing 737 MAX. When the FAA finally gives the nod, Boeing can get to work on delivering the hundreds of aircraft it has built and stored since last year’s grounding.

For many airlines, these incoming next-generation aircraft will be used to retire some older models. Icelandair, for example, is hoping to replace its aging Boeing 757s with the more efficient MAX. For others, it adds capacity, such as is the case with Ryanair who is desperate to expand operations with the arrival of its MAX.

Ryanair, Boeing 737 MAX, October
Ryanair may not receive its first 737 MAX until October. Photo: Getty Images

But did you know that, for some airlines, it could even be used to replace some widebody routes? Yes, the age of long-haul narrowbody is upon us, and Boeing’s 737 MAX is poised to take the lead.

Going the distance

The huge increase in fuel efficiency brought by the MAX has enabled airlines to be more selective with the aircraft they place on routes. Longer routes, previously the preserve of the widebody aircraft, are able to be operated with the MAX, which makes a lot of sense for those that are lower in demand.

Prior to its grounding, the 737 MAX replaced the four times weekly service by Aerolineas Argentinas between Buenos Aries and Punta Cana. Its added efficiency meant the airline was able to operate the route daily. The route covers 3,252nmi.

Aerolineas Argentinas 737 MAX
Aerolineas Argentinas operated one of the world’s longest 737 MAX flights in place of a widebody. Photo: Aerolineas Argentinas

Norwegian Air used to operate another of the world’s longest 737 MAX routes; several in fact. Prior to grounding, the airline had transatlantic connections between Bergen, Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Shannon to New York, with many of these routes coming close to 3,000nmi. Since the grounding, it has abandoned transatlantic flights from Ireland and has had to rely on widebody aircraft for other services.

In fact, of the worldwide routes spanning more than 2,500nmi and using a narrowbody aircraft, almost 80% were flown by the 737 MAX.

Replacing the widebodies

A blog by Boeing’s VP of Marketing, Randy Tinseth, published in 2018 said that flydubai had achieved a 15% fuel saving by using the MAX, as well as decreased disruption and maintenance. Hainan noted that there was significant fuel burn advantages to the aircraft, particularly on routes of more than three hours.

As such, we expect to see a number of airlines swap it in over widebody services for their thinner routes as it gradually returns to service. For some airlines, the increased efficiency will mean they can operate routes more often, choosing frequency over capacity. But the MAX is not alone in its long-haul narrowbody ambitions.

The XLR will compete with widebodies on some long routes. Photo: Airbus

On the Airbus side, the A320neo operates to a range of 3,400nmi while the A321neo, surprisingly, has a published maximum range of 4,000nmi. Then, there’s the gamechanging A321XLR which  will begin delivering in 2023. This modified A321 will offer a range of up to 4,700nmi, thanks to the addition of extra fuel tanks.

Although the MAX dominated the long-haul narrowbody routes two year ago, times have moved on. Going forward, it’s likely fewer widebodies will be used on routes of under six to seven hours. For the passengers, we just hope at least some take a leaf out of flydubai’s book and install options for lie flat seating on the aircraft destined to fly longer routes.

Are you looking forward to the return of the MAX? Let us know in the comments.