Inside Boeing’s 737 Max on its public debut as it goes head-to-head with Airbus

First look Boeing 737 Max

Boeing's newest aircraft, the 737 Max, was on display to the public for the first time this week at the Farnborough Airshow as the U.S. aerospace giant approaches its hundredth birthday, with orders remaining strong.

The 737 family is Boeing's most successful aircraft range and the latest Max model - which is due to be delivered in 2017 with launch customer Southwest Airlines - was borne out the desire for airlines to have more fuel efficient planes.

"It goes back to when we launched the program because...all of our product development work is really done with the customers. And at the time what they said is they really like the 737, it's a proven performer, but what we really want is more fuel efficiency," Keith Leverkuhn, vice president and general manager of Boeing's 737 Max project, told CNBC in an interview earlier this week.

"So we set about to try and create an iteration that brought in all the available technologies that would allow us to improve the fuel efficiency as well as the emissions and the noise."

Boeing 737 Max
Adrian Dennis | AFP | Getty Images

So far, the Boeing 737 Max has racked up a total of 3,256 orders. Its rival jet, the Airbus A320neo has around 4,700 orders.

Both jets are single-aisle aircraft, the highest-selling segment of planes. In its annual market forecast, Boeing estimates demand for 39,620 new airplanes over the next 20 years, 28,140 or 71 percent of which will be single-aisle aircraft. The narrowbody segment will be worth $3 trillion alone.

And both Airbus and Boeing are taking the chance to update the aerospace technology used and the in-cabin experience. The 737 Max has a new "winglet" added to the wings of the plane which Leverkuhn says improves fuel efficiency and its new interior design concept , the Boeing Sky Interior, adds softer lighting, greater legroom and bigger cabin bins.

These are features many of the newest aircraft are implementing as competition in the single-aisle market intensifies. Recently Russian firmIrkut launched the MC-21, a narrowbody jet that competes with Airbus and Boeing. Bombardier and Chinese state-owned aircraft manufacturer Comac, also have rival offerings.

To this end, Boeing's 737 Max is crucial for its future profits.

"The single aisle aircraft are the high volume aircraft for both Boeing and Airbus and have historically been the major profit drivers and cash generators. The 737 max is therefore key to Boeing maintaining this profit stream and also meeting the other competitors coming into this space such as Bombardier C series," Glynn Bellamy, head of aerospace at audit firm KPMG, said.

Airbus delays an opening for Boeing?

While the A320neo is ahead on orders given that it was released earlier, it has been plagued by delays caused by issues with the aircraft's Pratt & Whitney engines. Qatar Airways canceled an order for one A320neo and threatened to withdraw more, while potentially putting in orders for Boeing's 737 Max.

Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, told CNBC earlier this week that he was "seriously" talking to Boeing about buying a "large number" of its 737 Max aircraft. But analysts said that Boeing may not be able to steal orders from Airbus.

"The ability to switch between aircraft is limited given the backlog and lead times. The Max is due for launch after 320 and it would be expected that many of the 320 issues (due to Pratt & Whitney engines) will be resolved by then. A more likely option would be to consider the 320 with CFM Leap engines - the same engines as used on Max," Bellamy said.

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