IAG’s Boeing 737 MAX Intent: What’s The Latest?

The International Airlines Group (IAG) revealed a letter of intent to order 200 aircraft from the new Boeing 737 MAX family at the 2019 Paris Air Show. It did so at a time when IATA’s present Director General Willie Walsh was the group’s CEO. Now under the leadership of present CEO Luis Gallego, IAG is yet to turn this intent into a firm order. Nonetheless, the MAX may yet prove a key part of the group’s future fleet renewal plans.

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IAG’s letter of intent was for the MAX 8 and MAX 10 variants. Photo: Getty Images

How did it all start?

The 2019 Paris Airshow took place when the MAX was grounded after two fatal crashes involving it. This meant that, when IAG used the event to reveal its intentions to order 200 aircraft from the new but troubled narrowbody family, it took the industry rather by surprise. Its competitor Airbus, for example, was caught unawares by the announcement.

Soon after this announcement, the destinations for these aircraft, which would be from both the MAX 8 and MAX 10 variants, were revealed. IAG owns several European airlines, and, just before, it had ordered the Airbus A321XLR for Aer Lingus and Iberia.

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IAG’s letter of intent showed its confidence in the then-grounded MAX. Photo: Getty Images

Meanwhile, the MAXs were to be delivered to British Airways (based at Gatwick), Level, and Vueling. This would see the 737 return to BA’s fleet for the first time since 2015. However, since IAG revealed its intentions, circumstances in the industry have changed drastically.

Changing circumstances

Less than a year after IAG publicized its intentions to order 200 MAX aircraft, the coronavirus pandemic thrust enormous uncertainty onto the aviation industry. For example, the crisis caused British Airways to suspend its Gatwick operations, with fears that they may not resume. While they restarted in July 2020, a second suspension began in November.

Meanwhile, 2020 was a mixed bag in terms of the 737 MAX’s fortunes. Even industry heavyweights like Boeing were not immune from the challenges of the pandemic. However, the year ended on a better note for the aircraft, with it being recertified by the FAA in November. Brazilian carrier GOL was the first airline to reintroduce the type commercially.

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GOL operated the MAX’s first post-grounding flights. Photo: Alexandro Dias via Wikimedia Commons

What’s the situation now?

With all this in mind, it is interesting to see where IAG now stands on its proposed 200-aircraft MAX order. Originally, it had wanted the first deliveries to take place in 2022. However, the type is now more of a long-term consideration for the group.

Specifically, its potential presence at IAG airlines depends on the industry’s recovery from the present crisis. According to AIN Online, IAG’s current CEO, Luis Gallego, still considers the MAX to be a “good aircraft,” but only one to “consider for the future” at present.

IAG seems unlikely to place a firm MAX order until it has weathered the storm of the pandemic. Gallego doesn’t see 2019’s demand returning until 2023, stating that, “in the meantime, we have to adapt the size of our fleet to that demand.” As such, while IAG isn’t saying no to the MAX forever, its presence will be dictated by the industry’s post-pandemic recovery.

Do you think the Boeing 737 MAX will end up becoming part of the furniture at IAG in the future? Have you flown on the type since its recertification? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.