Michael O’Leary’s pursuit of a high density Boeing 737 finally came to fruition. US airframer Boeing has launched the 200 seat version of the 737 MAX 8 with a 100 airplane commitment from Ryanair, the Irish ultra-low cost carrier. Ryanair will also have options to purchase up to another 100 737 MAX 200 as the aircraft is being called.
By increasing the seat count by 11 over the existing 189 seats of a standard 737-800NG or 737 MAX 8, Boeing hopes to improve per seat fuel consumption by 5% over the MAX 8. To prevent the need for a fifth cabin crew member, the seat count on the Ryanair 737 MAX 200 will be kept at 197 seats. One crew member is required per 50 seats.
Ryanair has more than 300 737-800s in its fleets and operates more than 1,600 flights daily from 69 bases connecting 186 destinations in 30 countries.
Development of the Boeing 737 MAX 200
Despite being one of the largest customers of the Boeing 737-800, Ryanair had not placed an order for the MAX 8. For over a year, O’Leary has been pressuring Boeing to develop a ultra-high density version of the 737 MAX 8. The current all economy configurations of the 737-800 / MAX 8 is 189 seats and for the -900ER / MAX 9 is 220 seats with 17 inch wide seats. In comparison competitor Airbus offers only 180 seats on its A320, nine short of the 737, but each seat is 18 inches wide. Airbus leap-frogs Boeing by offering 220 seats on its A321 compared to the 214 seats of the 737-900ER and each seat is 18 inches wide.
In July Airbus introduce a concept called Airbus Cabin Flex (ACF) and increased the seating capacity of its A320neo to 189 seats, the same as the 737 MAX 8. ACF uses new slim seats which decreases seat pitch to 28 inches, and ultra-slim lavatories which moves the current two rear toilets in to half of the rear galley space (the cabin layout image of the A321neo below gives a good idea). Boeing which steadfastly denied any plans for a high density MAX 8, announced the MAX 200 two weeks later at the Farnborough Air Show 2014.
Relying on its extra 2.2 metres of fuselage length compared to the A320neo, the MAX 200 uses a rear mid-exit door just like the -900ER and MAX 9 to increase the emergency exit limit.
No Boeing MAX 240 for now
Using ACF, Airbus also increased its A321neo seating up 20 to 240 seats by shifting one the mid-exit doors to rear of the plane and using the new lavatories in place of half the galley.
We do not think Boeing will respond to the 240 seater A321neo, at least in the near future. The CFM LEAP engine which will power the MAX family is close to its limit with the current 220 seat MAX 9. It is doubtful Boeing will be able to meet field performance issues if the seat capacity is raised by 20 seats. Also, 200 seats is just about the sweet spot of the narrow body single aisle jet family for the foreseeable future. 240 seats is just a little over the top. Further unlike Boeing who had an well agitated Irishman on its head demanding the MAX 200, Airbus does not have any over-anxious customer for its ultra-high density configuration A320 or A321.