The Boeing 737 MAX is once again back in the spotlight, following an incident with an Alaska 737 MAX 9 at the beginning of the year. Regulators have made it clear that they’re now investigating Boeing, and this will fundamentally change the relationship between Boeing and regulators.
While the most immediate question is when the 737 MAX 9 will reenter service (which has the biggest implications for Alaska and United), it’s worth keeping in mind that the 737 MAX 7 and 737 MAX 10 haven’t yet been certified, and this latest issue will almost certainly push back the timeline further (which has the biggest implications for Southwest and United, respectively).
In this post:
United Airlines building plan without 737 MAX 10
United Airlines is Boeing’s biggest customer, and the airline has hundreds of Boeing 737 MAXs on order. In addition to the 737 MAX 8 and 737 MAX 9 (which are already in service), the airline also has 150 737 MAX 10s on order. This is the largest variant of the aircraft, and is a key part of United’s plan to increase capacity in many markets.
United CEO Scott Kirby had some interesting comments about Boeing, and in particular about the 737 MAX 10, during a Squawk Box interview yesterday morning:
- “I have a lot of confidence in the people of Boeing, but they’ve been having these consistent manufacturing challenges, and they need to take action”
- “We’re now best case five years behind on the original delivery of the MAX 10, and as we’ve gone through the last year, internally at United, we’ve grown increasingly to believe that best case, the MAX 10 just gets pushed further and further to the right, so we’ve already started working on alternative plans”
- “I think the MAX 9 grounding is probably the straw that broke the camel’s back for us, we’re gonna at least build a plan that doesn’t have the MAX 10 in it”
The 737 MAX 10 has been delayed by years, and up until recently, it seemed like certification was imminent. One has to assume that the timeline has just been pushed back further, given the latest 737 MAX issues.
For United, the 737 MAX 10 was going to have the best per-seat costs of any narrow body jets. On top of that, United was planning on installing flat beds on some 737 MAX 10s, using them as the new aircraft for premium transcontinental routes (in the same way American will use A321XLRs, and Delta will use A321neos).
What other fleet plans could United make?
United Airlines executives are of course right to be frustrated with the Boeing 737 MAX 10 delay. However, I have to assume that the “plans” that United is now making are more a theoretical exercise than anything concrete.
The 737 MAX 10 probably won’t be certified any time soon, so where does that leave United? Aircraft manufacturing is essentially a duopoly, so United’s options are limited:
- United could simply keep flying its existing aircraft for longer, and this would likely spell a longer life for the Boeing 757, among other aircraft
- United could order even more Airbus A321neos, which are the best direct replacement for the 737 MAX 10, and United already has 130 of these on order
- United could simply swap Boeing 737 MAX 10 orders for more 737 MAX 9s and 737 MAX 8s, as those planes are already certified
Realistically, I expect not a whole lot will actually change in the foreseeable future. United will likely continue taking delivery of its A321neos, 737 MAX 8s, and 737 MAX 9s, while we wait to see what happens with the 737 MAX 10 certification.
I imagine the 737 MAX 10 will be certified at some point, which is to say that I don’t think the plane is totally doomed. But still, it’s clear that United at least isn’t counting on this jet in the next couple of years… and it shouldn’t.
United Airlines’ management is expressing concerns about the prospect of the 737 MAX 10 being certified any time soon, given Boeing’s latest 737 MAX issues. While the company’s CEO claims that they’re working out a future plan that doesn’t involve the 737 MAX 10, I have to imagine we won’t actually see much happen here, since it’s not like there are many great alternatives with immediate delivery options.
What do you make of United’s Boeing 737 MAX 10 situation?