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Boeing Back in the News and 737-800 ‘Under Surveillance’

5 min read

Following the events involving China Eastern Airlines Flight MU5735, which belonged to the Boeing 737 fleet, VesselsValue have used their aircraft specific database to delve into the fleet’s history, current status, ownership and utilisation.

It has been a few months since China allowed the Boeing 737 MAX to continue commercial flights, however its elder sibling, the 737-800, now sweeps across the media and is ‘under surveillance and enhanced scrutiny’, says DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation).

A Brief History of the Boeing 737-800 Fleet

The 737 has been a staple aircraft for Boeing since 1967 with the original -100 and -200 variants, and around 1,144 aircraft of these types were built over the years up to 1984. Since then, Boeing’s Classics were designed and began entering service with the 300, 400 and 500 variants covering the years leading up to 1998. In this year, the ‘Next Generation’, or NG, had its first flight on 22nd January 1998. The NG 737 also had other variants in the 600, 700, 800 and 900 types.

The 800 alone had considerable success for Boeing, with around 5000 aircraft built in the last 20 years prior to Covid-19, as seen below in Figure 1. Of this, China accounts for approximately one third of the global 800 deliveries. This alone amassed a huge slice of the Narrowbody pie, only beaten by the A320 family from Airbus. The consolidated value of the 737-800 fleet is $85 billion, of which the Chinese fleet totals $24.7 billion, 29% of the global 737-800 fleet value.

Figure 1: Deliveries of Boeing 737-800 over 21 years, pre Covid-19.

Global Presence of the 737-800

The Boeing 737-800 has a large global presence, with China and the US being in the top two operators of the airframe. Figures 2 and 3 demonstrate the global coverage of the airframe, and the top 10 operating/owner countries respectively. China ranks third in the ownership of the 737-800 by numbers of aircraft, according to VesselsValue data, trailing behind the USA and Ireland.

Figure 2: Top 10 Operators of the Boeing 737-800 by Country.
Figure 3: Top 10 Owners of the Boeing 737-800 by Country.

Utilisation of the 737-800

According to VesselsValue utilisation measures from ADS-B data, the Chinese fleet was previously utilised at around 90%, defined as percentage of aircraft that were able to fly in a 7 day period.  This has fallen from above the 82% rest of world average to below at 75%, a change relative to the China Eastern Airlines MU5735 incident and the airline’s subsequent decision to suspend flying the 800 shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Utilisation of the Boeing 737-800 in China and Globally.

The Chinese Fleet of 737-800

The Chinese fleet is one of the youngest to operate at an average of 8.3 years, with only 3 China based airlines operating the 737-800 that are greater than 10 years old on average, as shown in Figure 5. When we delve into these airlines, China Eastern Airlines sits in 7th place at 6.54 years, a relatively young fleet for an airframe that has been around for 2 decades.  The oldest 737-800 of passenger configuration is 23.92 years and the youngest barely 2 years old at 1.88 years.

Figure 5: Average Age of Chinese 737-800 Fleets by Airline.

Domestic Flights in China

Countries and regions will typically have a ‘go to’ type of aircraft because of the routes, altitudes, temperatures, ranges, efficiencies, and environmental standards, alongside other factors that suit how the aircraft fits within the fleet and area of operations.

The issue that affected the MAX family with the grounding of the fleet for years, related to the MCAS (Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System) that does not exist on the 800 variant. 

The 737-800 is considered one of the safest aircraft ever designed in Aviation history, and China utilises this, typically operating around 60,000 domestic flights per month using this airframe alone, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Number of Domestic Flights in China operating 737-800s.

Conclusion

To summarise, the 737 is steeped in successful history, with outstanding safety records that may be tainted by the MAX.  Although they are heavily related, the design enhancements from the Next Generation to the MAX Family are considerably big and highly technological.

OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) continue to strive to improve efficiency, economy, and ecology.  ESG (Environment, Sustainability and Governance) is at the forefront of all businesses, their assets and how they operate. With that said, the 737-800 very much hit the sweet spot for a lot of airlines for many years.

It is currently unknown what caused the MU5735 incident. However, if 737-800s are grounded, this will have a negative effect on the values of these aircraft, like what was seen with the 737 MAX family.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this blog is to provide general information and not to provide advice or guidance in relation to particular circumstances. Readers should not make decisions in reliance on any statement or opinion contained in this blog.

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