In some of my articles I have dealt with the stretch of the Boeing (NYSE:BA) 737 MAX 7 or better said the shrink of the Boeing 737 MAX 8. If you are interested in knowing what exactly changed on the Boeing 737 MAX 7, I would advise you to read my article Stretch Or Shrink? Here Is What Is New On The Boeing 737 MAX 7. I also pointed out that history has shown that the smallest members of the Boeing 737 and Airbus (OTCPK:EADSF) A320 series have never been best sellers.
So Boeing is coming up with a MAX 8 shrink, which will not bring the company significantly more sales. So you might wonder why Boeing is doing all this and maybe the better question you could ask is "Why is Boeing coming up with a redesigned MAX 7, while it needs an airplane to compete with the Airbus A321neo and A321neoLR?".
In this article series I will have a look at the Boeing 737 Max 9 versus the Airbus A321neo and what a Boeing 737 MAX 10 would look like and why Boeing is not launching it.
Table 1: Order division for both narrow body families
A good point to start off with is taking a look at the order divisions between the types of both families. What is interesting to see is that the biggest member of the A320neo family accounts for almost 25% of the sales, while the MAX 9 accounts for 'only' 15%. The smallest members have almost equal order numbers. So looking at the backlog, it becomes clear that there is market demand for a 180-200 seat aircraft and Boeing is lacking a proper response. Nothing new so far, but it really makes you question why Boeing does not go for a stretch. In order to answer that question it is important to look at the general characteristics of the current biggest members of both families.
Table 2: General characteristics Boeing 737 MAX 9 and Airbus A321neo
From Table 1 it can be seen that the Airbus A321neo is outselling the Boeing 737 MAX 9, almost at a 3-to-1 ratio. To understand why this is the case we need to look at some basic figures and ratios. First of all, the Boeing 737 MAX 9 has a lower revenue potential or in other words the A321neo has a 4% higher revenue potential. In high density configuration the A321neo can carry 10% more passengers.
Passengers and Weight
If we look into the weight of both aircraft, AeroAnalysis estimates show that the MAX 9 has an approximate empty weight of 47,900 kg versus 49,700 kg for the Airbus A321neo. So the Airbus A321neo is some 1,800 kg heavier according to my estimates.
The Boeing 737 MAX 9 can carry up to 178 in typical 2-class configuration, compared to 185 for the Airbus A321neo.
If we divide the empty weight by the number of seats, it can be seen that the 737 MAX 9 is a bit heavier than the A321neo. The MAX 9 has an operating weight per seat of 269.1 kg versus 268.6 kg for the Airbus A321neo. It, however, has to be pointed out that the Airbus A321neo performs quite well as a 190-seat aircraft and that also is how a lot of airlines use the airframe. This would make the Airbus A321neo almost 3% lighter on a per seat basis.
Specific fuel consumption
The Boeing 737 MAX family will make use of the CFM LEAP-1B turbofan with a thrust range of 100 kN-120 kN and a fan diameter of 175 m. The Airbus A321neo will make use of the CFM LEAP 1A with a fan diameter of 198 cm. The thrust range of the LEAP 1A is between 109 kN and 147.5 kN. The specific fuel consumption of the CFM LEAP engines is about 20%-23% better than the turbofan it is replacing.
In terms of aerodynamic efficiency, the Airbus A320 family and Boeing 737 MAX family are quite close. I expect the Airbus A321 to have an edge of no more than 1%.
Combining the weights and efficiencies it can already be concluded that the main difference will be the difference in capacity, which will affect the per seat fuel burn.
Figure 1: Performance Boeing 737 MAX 9 versus Airbus A321neo (Source)
Figure 1 shows that the Airbus A321neo with 185 seats is 2.5% more efficient on a per seat basis. Combining this with the higher capacity, the Airbus A321neo brings an airline more value. Additionally, the Airbus A321neo can easily serve as a 190-seat aircraft. This would result in a fuel burn per seat that is roughly 2%-4.5% lower than for the MAX 9.
Take off parameter
One of the things that plays the Boeing 737 MAX 9 parts is the lack of thrust leading to a longer required runway length for take-off. Fully loaded, at maximum take off weight, the jet will need a runway length in excess of 3,000 meters. The Airbus A321neo, on the other hand, can perform a take-off (fully loaded) using roughly 3,000 meters. The bigger airports have runways that are long enough, so the aircraft can actually take off, but on some airports this could impose a constraint on either revenue generating capacity or fuel capacity.
Given that the Boeing 737 MAX 9 already has a lower passenger capacity, it means that when the available runway length is constraining the aircraft's take off weight, the aircraft will need to take off with less fuel. My model shows a range of 3,250nm for the MAX 9 and 3,500nm for the Airbus A321neo. So the problem the Boeing 737 MAX 9 is facing is that in order for it to be able to take off from shorter runways, it will have to reduce the on-board fuel. If you do that, the MAX 9 will have its range limited while it is already trailing the Airbus A321neo, which carries more passengers. For reference a flight between New York and Los Angeles is 2,150nm. Flights to the European mainland from New York are roughly 3,200nm. When you need to take less fuel on board the Boeing 737 MAX 9 already can barely make it across the Atlantic Ocean. Also for the Airbus A321neo this is a challenge, but it still seems to having a 150nm advantage.
The reason for the Boeing 737 MAX 9 being outsold by a wide margin is the fact that it brings less revenue and the lack of available thrust has big implications for the range of the aircraft. The Airbus A321neo is an aircraft that does the job more efficiently over the entire range.
In Part 2 of this article series I will have a look at what the Boeing 737-10X could look like and how it performs.
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Disclosure: I am/we are long BA.
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