The Boeing 737-800 and its next-generation counterpart, the MAX series, are the third and fourth generations of the American manufacturer’s popular short-haul airliner. The latter has the latest technology, exemplary fuel efficiency, and more advanced construction than its predecessors. However, there are serious questions concerning the safety of the type. So how exactly do the 737-800 and the MAX series compare?
What are the main differences?
The basic specifications of the different third-generation Boeing 737 models are as follows:
|Model||Seats (two-class setup)||Range|
|737-600||108||3,235 NM (5,991 km)|
|737-700||126||3,010 NM (5,570 km)|
|737-800||162||2,935 NM (5,436 km)|
|737-900ER||178||2,950 NM (5,460 km)|
A general trend is that the range of the aircraft is slightly longer among the smaller variants. However, this is not the case with the 737-900ER (‘Extended Range’), which can fly marginally further than the smaller 737-800.
The same specifications for the models of the fourth-generation 737 MAX series are as follows:
|Model||Seats (two-class setup)||Range|
|737 MAX 7||138-153||3,850 NM / 7,130 km|
|737 MAX 8||162-178||3,550 NM / 6,570 km|
|737 MAX 9||178-193||3,550 NM / 6,570 km|
|737 MAX 10||188-204||3,300 NM / 6,110 km|
Whilst the same range patterns exist as above, it is clear that the base range and carrying capacity of these aircraft are far superior to previous models. One interesting aspect is the difference between the 737 MAX 8 and the MAX 9. While the latter holds more passengers, this is at no detrimental cost to its operational range.
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Ryanair has placed 135 firm orders (plus 75 options) for the 737 MAX-200. This is a high capacity version with space for 200 passengers in seats with a tight pitch of just 28 inches. The Irish low-cost carrier hopes to begin taking delivery of these aircraft in early 2021.
Comparing the 737 MAX 8 directly to the 737-800 on numbers alone, it quickly becomes evident that the newer MAX series has a longer range and the ability to carry an extra 18 fare-paying customers. As such, from a statistical perspective, it is a clear winner.
What do they cost?
According to Boeing, the list prices for the different 737 models are as follows:
- 737-700: $89.1 million
- 737-800: $106.1 million
- 737-900ER: $112.6 million
- MAX 7: $99.7 million
- MAX 8: $121.6 million
- MAX 9: $128.9 million
- MAX 10: $134.9 million
These figures show that the MAX 8 costs $20 million more than the third-generation 737-800. In fact, only the smaller MAX 7 comes close to the affordability of the older model. However, there is a price to pay for the significant technological innovation that has been invested in the MAX series.
Nonetheless, Boeing knows that they need to provide a significant upgrade over the aircraft currently in use with such a significant price difference. This should help to convince airlines to make the financial commitment of upgrading their fleet. This will represent a particularly large investment for Southwest Airlines, which ordered 280 MAX series aircraft.
How do the order books compare?
According to Boeing, order figures for the two types as of June 2020 are as follows:
737-800: 4,991 orders (4,989 delivered)
737 MAX: 4,559 orders (387 delivered)
The 737-800 has been on sale since 1993 when it was first announced. This, therefore, represents an average order of around 185 aircraft a year over 27 years. The Boeing 737 MAX has slightly fewer total orders but has only been on the market for nine years since 2011. This, therefore, represents a higher annual average, at around 506 orders per year.
Despite the extensive promise of its new technology and favorable specifications compared to the 737-800, Boeing’s MAX series has been grounded since March 2019. This resulted from the following two fatal crashes involving the MAX, which occurred less than six months apart.
- Lion Air flight JT610 (Indonesia, October 29th, 2018, 189 fatalities)
- Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 (Ethiopia, March 10th, 2019, 157 fatalities)
Following the second tragedy, it quickly became clear that both aircraft crashed in similar circumstances. This raised widespread safety concerns about the type, which was then grounded worldwide just three days later. This had a significant knock-on operational effect for many airlines. Norwegian even went as far as to demand compensation from Boeing over the groundings.
In the time since aviation safety authorities worldwide ordered the grounding of the MAX series, Boeing has been working hard to address the safety concerns surrounding the aircraft. Over 18 months later, Simple Flying reported in October that Boeing’s changes had been approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). As a result, recertification of the type in Europe is expected to occur by the end of the year.
The upcoming recertification has prompted airlines to begin making plans for their reintroduction of the type. For example, Ryanair expects to be operating between 30 and 40 of the type throughout its dense European network by next summer. American Airlines, meanwhile, is aiming to reintroduce the MAX on flights between New York and Miami as early as December.
Chinese recertification is not imminent
However, this is not the case across all of the world’s aviation safety authorities. Simple Flying also reported last month that a return to China’s airline market was not on the horizon for the Boeing 737 MAX. While its return is not imminent, however, it is also unlikely never to occur. Indeed, the head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Feng Zhenglin, is said to have had two meetings with Boeing’s President concerning the type’s reintroduction. He states that:
“[The CAAC] is happy to see the aircraft resume commercial operations in China if the three principles it proposed to address safety issues can be met.”
Barring any further obstacles to the MAX program due to current events, Boeing intends to launch a fifth-generation model of the 737 in 2030. This will be based on the technology used in the 787 and 777X.
All things considered, the Boeing 737 MAX, with its favorable specifications, seems a superior alternative to the third-generation Boeing 737-800. While it is true that there is a significant difference in cost, this is reflected in the masses of modern technological benefits that the MAX offers its operators.
The tragedies involving the MAX series that led to its grounding must not be forgotten. One can only hope that, with the type’s recertification now imminent, Boeing has been able to rectify its safety issues, so that such tragic loss of life involving the MAX does not happen again.