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Boeing 737 MAX 10
An artist’s conception shows a 737 MAX 10 jet flying over Paris. (Boeing Illustration)

This week’s Paris Air Show started off with a zoom, in the form of Boeing’s launch of the 737 MAX 10 jet  — the longest version of its fuel-efficient single-aisle airplane family.

Today’s kickoff of the sales campaign was totally unsurprising, but the more than 240 orders announced at launch made for a “surprisingly strong showing” on its face, Leeham News and Comment’s Scott Hamilton reported.

He added that “the 240 orders were more than had been expected — and less than advertised.”

The 737 MAX 10, due to enter service in 2020, is 66 inches longer than the MAX 9 and can accommodate 10 more seats for a maximum capacity of 230 passengers. The stretch version is meant to attract operators who are willing to trade off more seats for slightly less range (up to 3,700 miles with an auxiliary tank vs. 4,045 miles for a similarly equipped MAX 9).

“Airlines wanted a larger, better option in the large single-aisle segment with the operating advantages of the 737 MAX family,” Kevin McAllister, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a news release. “Adding the 737 MAX 10 gives our customers the most flexibility in the market, providing their fleets the range capability, fuel efficiency and unsurpassed reliability that the 737 MAX family is widely known for.”

Boeing’s 737 MAX line is facing tough competition from Europe-based Airbus’ A320 line, which leads the order tally. The MAX 10 sizes up as a rival of the A321neo.

Among the companies announcing commitments to buy the MAX 10 are Indonesia’s Lion Air Group for 50 planes, India’s SpiceJet for 40, GE Capital Aviation Services for 20, Germany’s TUI Group for 18, Tibet Financial Leasing for 20, China’s CDB Aviation for 10, and BOC Aviation for 10. Additional commitments would be detailed later in the week, Boeing said.

One big reason why Hamilton said the orders were “less than advertised” was because most of today’s commitments involved memorandums of understanding rather than firm orders. In addition, many of the commitments announced today were conversions from existing 737 MAX orders.

“We think the 737 MAX 10 is a competitor to the 9, and that’s why a lot of people are converting,” Reuters quoted Airbus sales chief John Leahy as saying.

Airbus countered Boeing’s launch announcement with word that GE Capital was ordering 100 A320neo planes, and that Air Lease Corp. was ordering 12 more A321neos. Airbus also announced that it would bring out an expanded version of its A380 superjumbo jet, a 575-seat plane called the A380plus.

Boeing and Airbus plan to flood the Paris Air Show with order announcements and flashy airplane displays, but there’s a cloud hanging over the market: Analysts have been asking questions about the seemingly soft demand for twin-aisle jets such as Boeing’s 777, 787 and the yet-to-be-built 777X — and yes, Airbus’ A380 as well.

In the past, Boeing has argued that the continuing rise in air traffic and the replacement cycle for older wide-body jets will reverse the slowdown in new orders. Boeing’s vice president of marketing, Randy Tinseth, is due to address the evolving market outlook at the Paris Air Show on Tuesday.

Update for 7 p.m. PT June 24: Boeing won out over Airbus in the annual numbers game for orders at the Paris Air Show.

Thanks in large part to the MAX 10’s launch, Boeing claimed 571 sales while Airbus registered 336. The tally counts firm orders as well as squishier commitments to buy airplanes in the future, which means some of the commitments could fizzle.

What’s more, Boeing’s tally includes 214 conversions of previous 737 MAX commitments to the MAX 10. Airbus’ tally also counts sales conversions, but not nearly as many.

The bottom line is that, going by the rules for the Paris Air Show’s horse race, Boeing came out on top for the first time since 2012. “Are we conceding that Boeing sold a few more airplanes than we did? Yes. Every dog gets his day,” Airbus sales chief John Leahy told reporters in Paris.

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