Transportation

New Boeing 737 Max hits the skies. How its performance could impact flights to Hawaii

Boeing's new 737 Max 7 plane takes off for test flight

The Boeing 737 Max 7 airliner took off from Renton, Wash., for a test flight Friday morning. The light-weight plane with longer range than its predecessor is targeted for commercial use in 2019.
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The Boeing 737 Max 7 airliner took off from Renton, Wash., for a test flight Friday morning. The light-weight plane with longer range than its predecessor is targeted for commercial use in 2019.

The newest version of the iconic 737, smaller and more technologically advanced than its predecessors, breached the clouds Friday with a successful test flight near Seattle.

Boeing's line of 737 "MAX" airliners, with four variants designated Max 7-10, promises comfort, reliability and, most notably, better range than the standard model.

The Max 7 is the smallest and lightest of them all, and is the one that made its maiden, two-and-a-half-hour flight this week, taking off and landing in Washington state. It can carry up to 172 passengers and has the longest range (3,850 nautical miles) of any Max airplane, according to a press release.

How much is 3,850 nautical miles? It equates to nearly 4,500 miles, and is enough for a direct flight from Dallas to Hawaii. The Max 8 can travel 3,500 nautical miles. The model the Max 8 is replacing, the 737-800, can traverse just 3,060 nautical miles in one trip.

If the Max airliners perform well and acquire the right certifications, the result for Californians could be cheaper and easier flights to Hawaii and other distant destinations.

Southwest announced in October that it plans to offer flights to Hawaii, pending FAA approval and certification called ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards). Flights to Hawaii weren't feasible for Southwest with the 737-800's limited range.

If successful, the airline will start selling tickets this year. Those flights will likely use either the Max 7 or Max 8.

However, as SFGate pointed out last year, Southwest has not stated which airports would benefit from new flights to and from Hawaii. But busy airports near the Pacific, like Oakland or San Francisco International, would make plenty of sense.

Bloomberg reported Friday that while the Max family has plenty of orders lined up, Max 7 seems to be lagging behind sales expectations. The success of the airliner could influence flight costs for both Southwest and competing airlines; and if Southwest's prices go down, the rest tend to follow.

Boeing's 737 aircraft are used by many U.S. airlines, including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest, United and Delta. Southwest operates more than 700 of them, the most by far.

Boeing hopes to put the Max 7 to commercial use in 2019. Max 8 is already flying, Max 9 received Federal Aviation Administration certification this February and Max 10 is still in development.

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