SEATTLE – The Boeing 737 MAX 9 took to the skies in Seattle at 10:52 am local (1:52 pm EST), marking the first flight for the current largest variant of the re-engined 737 MAX family. The MAX 9 flew for 2 hours and 42 minutes before landing back at Seattle’s Boeing Field (it took off from Renton) at 1:34 pm PST.
Piloted by Christine Walsh and Ed Wilson, both Boeing Test and Evaluation Captains, the MAX 9’s first flight included tests of flight controls, systems, and handling qualities. The MAX 9’s first flight was completed just four days after the 50th anniversary of the first ever 737 flight (be sure to read Paul Thompson’s excellent feature on the first 737 ).
“The MAX 9’s first flight is another milestone that continues the program’s strong track record of progress,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes President & CEO Kevin McAllister. “The MAX family of airplanes offers more value than any competitor and its strong market acceptance is reflected in over 3,700 airplanes on order from 86 customers around the world.”
“The 737 MAX team continues to fire on all cylinders,” said Keith Leverkuhn, vice president, and general manager, 737 MAX program, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Each new milestone we meet builds knowledge and experience that gets leveraged to keep the program moving forward on track.”
The MAX 9 will enter into service (EIS) in 2018, joining the smaller 737 MAX 8 (which seats 15-20 fewer passengers) which had its first flight in January of last year.
The MAX 8 will enter service in the second quarter (Q2) of 2017 with Malaysian carrier Malindo Air (a subsidiary of Indonesian low-cost giant Lion Air). The first route to be served by the 737 MAX will be Kuala Lumpur – Singapore, with Bangkok Don Mueang and Guangzhou the next destinations on tap.
The MAX 9’s first operator will likely be launch customer Lion Air, who ordered 201 MAX 9 jets in February of 2012. Lion Air single-handedly accounts for close to half of the 418 firm orders for the 737 MAX 9 currently in the backlog, and there is some speculation that Lion Air will convert some of its MAX 9 orders back down to the more popular MAX 8 variant.
More broadly, the MAX 9 has struggled to sell up against rival Airbus’ A321neo, which has more than three times as many firm orders thanks to superior operating economics and payload-range capabilities (a rare case of leadership in both those categories for an Airbus-Boeing head to head battle).
The MAX 9’s weakness has been a major trigger for the rampant speculation about Boeing launching a clean-sheet airplane in the middle of market (MOM) space. Speculation has also touched on a stretched 737 MAX 10X, which would add a few rows to the MAX 9 and allow it to better match the MAX 9’s economics.
Regardless, the first flight of the MAX 9 is another milestone for Boeing’s re-engined 737 MAX program, which to date has had an incredibly smooth rollout and a development process for a modern aircraft program.
This post will be updated with photos and video from the event when it is available.