SunExpress Gives Boeing First Firm MAX Order Since Grounding
Boeing’s low-key approach with the 737 MAX at the Dubai Airshow hit an unexpected but welcomed snag on the show’s second day, as Turkish leisure carrier and MAX customer SunExpress exercised options for 10 737 MAX 8s.
The deal boosted the Turkish Airlines-Lufthansa subsidiary’s MAX commitments to 42. More importantly, it gave Boeing’s grounded narrowbody a tangible vote of confidence as the manufacturer works to convince regulators and the public that the model is safe.
"We have a long-standing, strong and trustful relationship with Boeing and thus we decided to turn our option into an order,” said SunExpress CEO Jens Bischof. "We have full confidence that Boeing will deliver us a safe, reliable, and efficient aircraft. However, it goes without saying that this requires the undisputed airworthiness of the model, granted by all relevant authorities.”
SunExpress and its German arm, which has its own operating certificate, operate a combined 65 737-800s. The airline was slated to take its first MAXs this year. But the mid-March grounding following two fatal accidents and Boeing’s related pausing of deliveries left SunExpress, like dozens of other carriers, without expected MAXs. Bischof cited expected continued demand as one reason for adding 10 more MAXs to its order book. Previous plans called for the carrier to take five MAXs per year through 2023 and then seven in 2024. An updated delivery schedule was not made public.
The SunExpress order is Boeing’s first firm MAX booking since the grounding. International Airlines Group announced an LOI for 200 at the Paris Airshow in June, but that deal has not been finalized.
The manufacturer came to Dubai seemingly intent on keeping its commercial-side focus on the MAX’s safe return while downplaying any next steps or sales campaigns. The theme carried to its booth, which features large models of current-production aircraft and a 737 converted freighter, but no MAX.
But the company faced criticism for signaling confidence in a timeline that includes a 2019 blessing from the FAA, even as the regulator continually stressed that it is not working on a schedule. Newly appointed Boeing Commercial President Stan Deal sought to calm the controversy in a pre-show media briefing by emphasizing that Boeing “is going to follow the FAA’s lead.”
The company’s SunExpress press announcement lauded the carrier, and also referenced the bigger-picture MAX issues. "The Boeing team is working hard to safely return the airplane to service and providing the capacity for SunExpress to continue serving as the backbone of air travel in the Turkish tourism industry,” Deal said.
Boeing continues to work on finalizing flight control software and training changes the MAX, addressing issues spotlighted in two fatal accident sequences: October 2018’s crash of Lion Air Flight 610, and March’s crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. The FAA is not expect to finalize its review of the changes and training-program approval until early 2020 at the earliest.