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Vietjet Boeing 737 MAX
An artist’s conception shows a Boeing 737 MAX wearing the livery of Vietjet Air. (Credit: Boeing)

With President Barack Obama looking on, executives from Boeing and Vietjet Air signed a deal in Hanoi worth $11.3 billion for 100 737 MAX airplanes – the biggest single commercial airplane purchase in Vietnam.

The single-aisle MAX 200s will be delivered over a time frame ranging from 2019 through 2023, boosting Vietjet’s fleet to more than 200 planes. The low-cost carrier put in a series of orders with Airbus for A320 and A321 jets over the past two years.

The order for the next-generation, fuel-efficient 737 MAX jets provided a commercial boost for Obama’s first-ever visit to Vietnam this week. Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang was also on hand for Monday’s signing ceremony.

Shortly afterward, Obama announced that the U.S. embargo on arms exports to Vietnam would be fully lifted, removing the final major barrier that remained between Washington and Hanoi in the wake of the Vietnam War.

Boeing has been selling planes to Vietnam’s airlines since the trade embargo was lifted in 1994. Even so, Monday’s sale to Vietjet – a privately owned carrier that made a splash with its bikini-clad flight attendants – provided a substantial boost for Boeing as well.

“Boeing is proud to again play an integral role in advancing Vietnam’s aviation industry,” said Ray Conner, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, who signed the agreement on Boeing’s behalf.

Vietjet President and CEO Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao signed for her airline. In a statement, she said “our investment in a fleet of B737 MAX 200 will accommodate our strategy of growing Vietjet’s coming international route network, including long-haul flights.”

The first 737 MAX went through its maiden test flight in January, and the first delivery is due to be made to Southwest Airlines next year. Boeing says that 3,098 orders have been placed for the 737 MAX by 65 customers around the world. As impressive as that sounds, the tally lags behind the more than 4,400 orders reported by Airbus for the rival A320neo family of jets.

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