If you travel by air or live by an airport, then most likely, you have seen the Boeing 737. It has a long history of being used by most major airlines in the world and is Boeing’s bread and butter. It is rivaled by the Airbus A320 program, which, according to sales, has been overtaking Boeing for the coveted title as the world’s most successful commercial aircraft. The plane that will lead into the future much depends on the most recent series of each, specifically the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320neo. How do they compare? Let’s find out.
How will we compare the aircraft?
We will be taking on the role of an airline that is considering either the Boeing 737 MAX family or the A320neo family. We will be looking at profitability and price rather than focusing on passenger comforts.
Let us address the elephant in the room. The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded after two fatal crashes. These incidents are absolute tragedies, and the plane remains out of action after a year and a half.
Since the groundings, the jet has gone through rigorous testing and analysis overseen by aviation bodies such as the Federal Aviation Administration. For the sake of a fair comparison, we will base this article on a climate after Boeing has reintroduced the plane.
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The series head to head
We have put all versions into one table and highlighted their capacity and range.
|737 MAX 7||153||3,850 NM|
|737 MAX 8||178||3,550 NM|
|737 MAX 9||193||3,550 NM|
|737 MAX 10||204||3,300 NM|
At first glance, it looks like there are two distinct rivals; The Boeing 737 MAX 7 vs. the A319neo and The Boeing 737 MAX 8/9 vs. the A320neo.
Some would assume that the A321neo easily beats off all competition with its vast range and large passenger numbers. However, more passengers mean more seats that all need to be sold to make that route profitable. There will also be more fuel for longer distances, more weight, and more costs. The numbers sometimes don’t add up for every airline and it is not always the most cost-effective option.
Airbus A319neo vs. Boeing 737 MAX 7
Looking at passengers, we can see that the A319neo carries more than its rival, the Boeing 737 MAX. However, there are only seven passengers more. If it was a short flight of only $100 per ticket, that’s only $700 extra revenue. Likewise, the 737 can only fly an additional 100 NM than the Airbus, which, without going into details about fuel efficiency, may imply better operational costs.
We are not convinced that a small number of extra passengers (seven) would beat out the better range of the 737 MAX 7.
Winner: Boeing 737 MAX 7
Airbus A321neo vs. 737 MAX 10
We will put the A321neo up against the 737 MAX 10 since the latter has the closest amount of seats to the Airbus model.
Altogether, the A321neo has a maximum capacity of 240, which trumps the MAX 10’s offering. The plane also has a range that’s 700 NM greater than its rival. Therefore, a company that’s in the market for a 200+ capacity narrowbody may likely prefer to go for Airbus’ solution.
Winner: Airbus A321neo
Airbus A320neo vs. Boeing 737 MAX 8/9
This is the main event.
With a top-down perspective, we can see that the Airbus A320neo carries two more passengers than the 737 MAX 9, which in turn flies 50 NM more than the Airbus model. This makes a comparison on range or passengers almost inconsequential and really showcases just how tight the competition is.
Looking at the specifics, we can see that the Boeing 737 MAX beats the A320 with a higher max payload (46,040 lb vs 44,100 lb) and a higher thrust power. The 737 MAX 9 can also be reconfigured into a super-dense 220 seater variant (or in the case of the MAX 8, a 200 seater which will be the new Ryanair variant).
The 737 MAX 8 can also carry more cargo than the Airbus A320, meaning more revenue for the airline. In summary, this means more lifting power, more room, and more flexibility for airlines.
Winner: 737 MAX 8/9
Wait, what about costs?
Here is the current list price for each Airbus aircraft (as of 2018):
- A319neo: $101.5 million
- A320neo: $110.6 million
- A321neo: $129.5 million
Additionally, for Boeing (as of 2019):
- MAX 7: $99.7 million
- MAX 8: $121.6 million
- MAX 200: $124.8 million
- MAX 9: $128.9 million
- MAX 10: US$134.9M
As you can see, the Airbus models are actually cheaper (not that airlines usually pay list prices), and it is able to produce more aircraft due to their multiple factories around the world. This factor means that Airbus will be a dominant player, despite not having the better aircraft on paper.
Winner: Airbus A320neo family
Overtaking the lead
By the end of October 2019, Boeing recorded 15,136 orders for 737 models, including all types’ variants. Meanwhile, its European rival recorded 15,193 orders for the A320 family.
Airbus had been chasing Boeing for years, and the A320neo had put it in close range of the US firm. However, by the end of 2018, the A320 family was still behind the 737 MAX by 400 orders.
The aftermath of the 737 MAX accidents and groundings eventually caught up with Boeing and impacted its reputation. As 2020 came around, Boeing was reporting some alarming numbers. When it came to plane sales, the company recorded its worst record in over five decades as it revealed no new orders in January. The last time this happened at the firm was back in 1962.
Meanwhile, in contrast, at the beginning of this year, Airbus said that it was discussing further ramp-up potential for the A320 program above a rate of 63 planes each month. It was seeing a clear path to further raise the monthly production rate by one or two aircraft. This move would have meant that it could manufacture 67 jets each month within three years.
Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury told CNBC the following in February:
“The direct competitor to the 737 MAX is the A320 in the Airbus family of products. And on the A320, as you know, we are sold out until 2025 so we have no real opportunity in the short-term to offset the consequences of the grounding.”
However, the pandemic would soon shake up the aviation industry from top to bottom. This factor would significantly impact the business of both plane makers.
From the start of this year through to the end of last month, the figure of MAX orders canceled, or removed from Boeing’s official backlog when applying strict accounting measures, stood at 1,006 planes. Altogether, cancellations of the type, including units where purchasers converted one type to another were at 436 planes.
Altogether, the damage done over the last few years means it’s hard for many to put the 737 MAX over the A320neo. However, the robust scrutiny that the plane has gone through since indicates that it should return with all the necessary fixes in place to ensure nothing like the previous catastrophes happen again.
Additionally, the global health crisis has affected the need for new aircraft from any manufacturer to join fleets across the globe. Several airlines have been trying to defer or cancel orders amid the severe downturn in passenger activity.
Therefore, in this post-crisis reality that we are covering in this article, on paper, the Boeing 737 MAX edges past the A320neo when it comes to specifications. However, the latter’s lower price could make it an attractive choice for several carriers when shopping for a new narrowbody fleet.
As of August 2020, the backlog of A320neo family aircraft stood at 6,034 planes. Meanwhile, Boeing 737 MAX orders stood at 3,408 aircraft. Therefore, both types will continue to be powerhouses within the short and medium-haul market for years to come. However, it looks like Airbus will have the edge on its rival in this field over the next decade, at least.
Out of the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320neo, which aircraft do you think is better when going up against each other? Do you believe that the 737 MAX will be able to repair its reputation after its reintroduction? Let us know what you think of the planes in the comments section.