Vueling, LEVEL And BA Tipped To Get IAG’s 737 MAX Planes

Last week IAG made an announcement that it had intentions to purchase up to 200 Boeing 737 MAX jets. These aircraft are destined for three of the IAG airlines; Vueling, LEVEL and British Airways. With deliveries estimated between 2023 and 2027, how will these new aircraft work for these airlines?

IAG intends to buy 200 737 MAX aircraft. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

According to the IAG press release regarding the order, the planes will be split between the three carriers:

“The mix of 737-8 and 737-10 aircraft would be delivered between 2023 and 2027 and would be powered by CFM Leap engines. It is anticipated that the aircraft would be used by a number of the Group’s airlines including Vueling, LEVEL plus British Airways at London Gatwick airport.”


It almost goes without saying that this announcement was a huge nod of confidence to the notorious aircraft. The order is significant at a time while the MAX remains grounded worldwide due to two fatal crashes.


In the Boeing press release, IAG CEO Willie Walsh is quoted as saying,

“We’re very pleased to sign this letter of intent with Boeing and are certain that these aircraft will be a great addition to IAG’s short-haul fleet…We have every confidence in Boeing and expect that the aircraft will make a successful return to service in the coming months having received approval from the regulators.


Oddly enough, the Boeing press release does not mention the aircraft going to British Airways, only talking about LEVEL and Vueling. It’s likely that the Group hasn’t entirely decided on where to place the new acquisitions, and is keeping options open between the three carriers.

The 200-aircraft order will be a mix of MAX 8 and MAX 10 aircraft. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Just the first step

With such a large order on such a controversial jet, the aviation community is speculating that IAG must have received a significant discount off the 737 MAX list price. However, as the ‘order’ is no more than a Letter of Intent (LOI) at this stage, anything could change.

Announcing intention is less significant than signing an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) and much weaker than a “firm order”. A firm order usually means a deposit is put down and that if the buyer backs out there could be penalties.


LEVEL was established in 2017 as a long haul, low cost airline, to compete with the rising number of airlines offering these types of services. However, over the years, they have undergone significant expansion, and have added many short haul European routes also.

On short-haul flights, LEVEL operates a mix of A320 and A321 jets. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Now, LEVEL operates a fairly comprehensive network of routes, with three bases spread across Europe. These bases are: Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam and Vienna. It is from these bases that the airline operates various European and transatlantic flights.

The airline uses the Airbus A330-200 as its long-haul aircraft. Routes for this aircraft include:

  • Santiago – Barcelona
  • New York JFK -Barcelona
  • Buenos Aires – Barcelona
  • Boston- Barcelona
  • San Francisco- Barcelona
  • Montreal – Paris Orly
  • Boston – Paris Orly
  • Las Vegas – Paris Orly
LEVEL uses the Airbus A330 on it’s long-haul routes. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Within Europe, LEVEL uses four Airbus A321 aircraft, each fitted with 210 seats. Over the course of 2019, the airline will take a total of three A320 aircraft, each fitted with 180 seats. So far, two have been received with a third on the way. The European routes using these jets are too numerous to list but the destinations from their bases include London (Luton and Gatwick), Hamburg, and Rome.


Vueling’s fleet consists of over 120 narrowbody aircraft. According to Wikipedia, the majority of these are Airbus A320-200s (86) with a number of A321-200s as well. The airline will also be taking more of the NEO versions of these aircraft in the future.

With hubs in Barcelona and Rome, Vueling serves more than 80 destinations year-round. Furthermore, the airline flies to more than 25 additional seasonal destinations.

Vueling currently operates a completely Airbus fleet. Photo: Flickr user Eric Salard

British Airways

Of the three airlines, British Airways actually makes the most sense, as it’s the only carrier which currently operates any Boeing planes. While they have a number of 747s, 777s and 787s taking care of long haul operations, their short haul needs are exclusively catered for by the A320 family of aircraft.

British Airways A320
British Airways operates short haul with A320 family aircraft. Photo: British Airways

BA moved to Gatwick in 1992, after they took over Dan Air. Recently, they’ve been moving a number of short haul flights from Heathrow to Gatwick, as well as launching new European routes from there. As such, it makes sense that any MAX addition to their fleet would be based out of the southerly London airport.

How the 737 MAX will change these airlines

For LEVEL and Vueling, the addition of the MAX will be a big step-change for both airlines. Both are currently Airbus-exclusive operators, which means they’ll require a whole new set of tooling, maintenance, spares and pilot certification to start flying the planes. For BA, the transition could potentially be easier, as they already have some Boeing presence in their fleet.

There are some very mixed messages coming out of both Boeing and IAG regarding how these planes will be split among the airlines; chances are they haven’t even decided themselves yet. But, with the first not due for delivery until 2023, there’s plenty of time to figure it out.

So what else can we expect to see with this order? Perhaps somewhat obvious with a fleet expansion, this is what we’re anticipating:

  • Additional bases in other major European cities, leading to
  • New and additional routes within Europe
  • An increase in frequency for the most popular routes

So far the most vocal commenters have voiced their concerns about flying on the 737 MAX and the loss of their business that will result. However, as View From The Wing points out, this is far from being a firm order for the aircraft, and anything could change in the next three years.

Would you fly a 737 MAX with any of these airlines? Let us know in the comments.


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Norman McLeod

Fly a 737 MAX? (or a 787 for that matter)…NO WAY ! An inherently unstable aircraft may be good for military use or for airline profits, but they won’t make any profit from me.


Count me in. I am American and spend on American products and no I don’t think of Airbus and that BS plant in Alabama as anything but politics


lmao suicide on IAG’s part

Jason L

It first seemed very surprising but reading between the lines of what Mr Walsh said I draw the conclusion that IAG wants to restore the competition balance after the 737-max tragedies and fiasco, it is safe-ish bet if the 737 – max comes back to service in it’s current albeit software upgraded form and with a 2nd aoa sensor, other airlines and their passengers will test the plane for them over the course of 3 years, if more problems arise IAG can simply walk away without any penalties. The only economic sense, if there can be one, would be a… Read more »

Michael Little

I certainly wouldn’t fly on this hastily built aircraft. It is basically a 50 year old design. I cannot understand Willie Walsh’s decision. What is wrong with his experience of the Airbus A320 family which the group has been flying for years. Bye bye BA as far as I am concerned.

Bob Braan

Obviously Boeing paid IAG decision makers under the table to “order” planes so Boeing could save face at the show. Why else would you not go for competitive bids? A letter of intent means nothing. Some at Boeing and IAG are best buds. Google “The 737 Pilot Who Came to Rescue Boeing” on Bloomberg.
“Willie Walsh, who runs the IAG SA airline group and had built a close rapport over the years both with Conner and Boeing”

Joanna Bailey

It does seem there’s something fishy going on. It makes no sense to add the 737 to LEVEL or Vueling’s fleets, or even BAs for that matter. I guess they’re playing the long game though… if the plane makes a successful return to service by 2023, then they’ve snagged an amazing deal on a capable plane. If not, or if it doesn’t make sense for the fleets by then, IAG can walk away unscathed. Meanwhile, Boeing saved face at the Paris Air Show – win-win for both parties.