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737 MAX 9 rollout
Boeing’s first 737 MAX 9 jet makes a splash at the company’s Renton plant. (Boeing Photo)

The skies may have been gray at Boeing’s Renton final assembly plant today, but the mood was sunny – thanks to the rollout of Boeing’s first 737 MAX 9 jet.

The photo op for employees is one of the rituals for a new breed of airplane, and today’s event played out much like the ceremonies that accompanied the rollout of the somewhat smaller 737 MAX 8 in late 2015, right down to the overcast, rain-spattered setting.

Like the MAX 8, the MAX 9 is designed for greater fuel efficiency than Boeing’s previous generation of single-aisle 737 jets, which make up the world’s most widely sold class of airplanes.

Boeing says more than 3,600 orders already have been placed for the MAX series, which takes in the 8, the 9 and the yet-to-be-built 7. The company is also talking about creating a supersized version known as the 737 MAX 10.

The MAX 9 has room for 16 to 20 more seats than the MAX 8 – boosting capacity to somewhere between 178 and 220 passengers, depending on configuration.

Last month, Boeing gave us journalists a sneak peek at the first MAX 9 while it was under construction. Now that the plane is officially finished, Renton employees are getting their turn for close-up views. Here’s a sampling of social media postings:

#737MAX-9 ROLLOUT

A post shared by Mary Jo Jensen (@maryjojensen) on

Malindo @ Max9 rollout#737max

Posted by Saiful Bahri Halim on Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The next big steps for the MAX 9 will be a series of flight tests, culminating in the Federal Aviation Administration’s certification and eventually the first deliveries to customers.

The MAX 8 is almost finished with that part of the process. Boeing says Norwegian Air should be getting the first 737 MAX 8 in May, and the first MAX planes should be in commercial service by this summer – when even Renton’s skies will doubtless be sunnier.

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