Did Boeing Make A Mistake Launching The 737 MAX?

A Boeing 737-10, part of the MAX series midair

The Boeing 737 MAX is an updated version of Boeing’s highly successful 737 series and, upon entering the industry, took the world by storm.

While released at the time in a market that desired such a plane, later down the line, there were severe questions about the Boeing 737 MAX.

Question marks on whether or not shortcuts in attempting to release the aircraft to better compete with Airbus and their own A320neo program could have negatively impacted the series. Additionally, this led to severe flaws being identified in the vital makeup of the program.

The 737 MAX sticks to the core principles of design identified with the 737 series across a multi-decade period. However, with each new variant, slight adjustments come into the picture, which means looking at the first iteration, 737, and the latest noticeable changes can be present.

The Boeing 737NG vs 737 MAX

But just what changed from the 737NG to the 737 MAX? Well, the NG was a substantial improvement, it must be said, on the original 737 versions. This was then only further highlighted through its fantastic performance in the market.

Therefore, when Boeing was studying the 737 MAX, it was important for the company to release a type with necessary improvements.

Notably, Boeing upgraded the engines on the type by introducing more significant and more efficient CFM International Leap-1B engines. The purpose of this addition was to create a more fuel-efficient but also environmentally friendly aircraft.

These were important considerations at the time, especially when attempting to understand the direction for the future decades. This a period when this plane would enter its prime.

Strengthening was visible throughout the aircraft, and the tail cone was reshaped to save fuel. Updated electronic systems were featured throughout, as you’d expect, thanks to technological advancements.

A New MCAS system was added, too, as well as updates to the winglets. MCAS is a primary sticking point, as is adding new engines. Larger engines presented problems themselves. Boeing wanted to certify the aircraft quickly but found that the Leap-1B engines presented challenges. As a result, it placed the engines further forward over the 737NG.

Pressures In Getting The 737 MAX Released

These pressures were primarily felt throughout the program as the aircraft manufacturer attempted to compete with Airbus.

Analysts believed that the American plane maker was in a race against time not to allow its competitor to get even further ahead in the market.

The 737 had seen arguments that it was a tired design, and at this point, Boeing should’ve opted for a clean sheet narrowbody. This clean sheet would’ve taken what was loved about the 737NG and applied it to the all-new design.

However, Boeing didn’t have the time to move forward with a clean sheet as Airbus re-engined its own A320 and experienced fantastic results. In such a lucrative and fundamental market that makes up the bulk of orders and deliveries for manufacturers each year, to allow Airbus to move unrivalled would’ve been a terrible mistake.

Further Important Considerations Made

While these design changes mentioned earlier were primarily aimed at improving fuel efficiency and overall performance, cost considerations were also made.

Boeing wanted to minimise the costs of designing an entirely new aircraft, requiring more time and resources. By building upon the existing 737 platform and modifying it, Boeing could bring the 737 MAX to market more quickly and with lower development costs.

It’s hard to argue on the surface with that thinking and logic. It had the potential to be a hugely successful aircraft for Boeing, and it has been commercially successful. Just Boeing needed to ensure nothing slipped through in this massive race to earn additional cash.

Unfortunately for Boeing, after launch, it would be revealed on a catastrophic scale just how much slipped through to ensure the plane would be released as quickly as possible for customers.

Many would argue that such significant changes were a mistake and that the writing was on the wall. Additionally, others would say that the cultural shift at this point was evident through the prioritisation of profits.

A Positive Outlook For The 737 MAX

Now, the 737 MAX, after its crisis, has recovered and is flown around the globe. It also attracts substantial interest and has a more than solid backlog.

It has become a worthy competitor to the A320neo series. However, question marks over what is next persist. Will Boeing be able to squeeze any more life out of a dated fuselage design?

Analysts argue no and believe studies undertaken by the American plane maker are crucial to determining the next generation for the single-aisle powerhouse that is the 737.

Whether in an adjusted name, a new digit combination or something else. Either way, to stick the landing for the next iteration, importance will be placed on not just putting forward an adequate aircraft but also one that is safe, doesn’t cut corners and has a sustainable outlook.

Daniel Fowkes
02 Nov 2023
· Aircraft 

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