Boeing's 737 marks a big milestone

The 8,000th model has rolled off the assembly line. There's a reason it's the best-selling airplane of all time.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 16, 2014 3:06PM
Credit: © David Ryder/Reuters

Caption: A Boeing 737 jetliner at the Boeing assembly plant in Renton, Wash.By Justin Bachman, Businessweek

Boeing's (BA) 737 aircraft just marked an aviation first: The 8,000th model has rolled off the assembly line, a round-number milestone for the best-selling airplane of all time. 

Boeing will deliver the aircraft, a 737-900ER, on Wednesday to United Airlines (UAL), the buyer of the first 737 sold in the U.S.

For an idea of just how popular the 737 is among airlines -- several have built their entire business models around that one airplane -- consider that Boeing's archrival, Airbus, finished its 8,000th overall plane in August. The 737 program started in 1967, seven years before Airbus delivered its first airplane.

Today, however, Airbus is a strong competitor in the market for medium-range, single-aisle aircraft with its A320 family, which made its debut in 1988 and topped 6,000 deliveries last month -- an illustration of how much more quickly airplanes are turned out in recent decades than in the early days of the 737. 

Boeing builds 42 of the 737s each month and says it will boost output to 47 in 2017 because of strong demand; Airbus is increasing A320 production from 42 to 46 per month by 2016.

The initial 737-100, ordered by Lufthansa, was 93 feet long and 93 feet wide by wingspan, prompting engineers to dub it "the square." The plane was designed as a complement to Boeing’s 727 model for routes of as long as 1,000 miles. 

United sought a 737 that was 6 feet longer, leading Boeing to build a 737-200. That design proved to be far more popular with airlines and was followed by variations that went through the 900ER, the currently the largest version of the plane.

"The 737 continues to be an important part of United's narrow-body fleet, and this tradition will continue with our order for 100 737 MAX 9 aircraft," United's vice president in charge of fleet, Ron Baur, said in a statement.

Boeing's next generation of the aircraft is called the 737 MAX, which will be available in 2017 and come in three versions of varying size. Those models will replace the current 700, 800, and 900ER series. Southwest Airlines (LUV), which flies an all-737 fleet, is the MAX launch customer, with 200 firm orders and options for 191 more.

Boeing had a celebration on Monday with workers at its plant (pictured) in Renton, Wash., where the 737 has been built since 1970. And there will likely be many more such parties in the Puget Sound area as the program topples future delivery milestones. 

Engineering prowess has made the plane -- along with its A320 nemesis -- durable, flexible, cost-effective, and profitable for airlines. As that evolution continues, seeing the 737 soar to 16,000 seems like a real possibility.

More from Businessweek

Apr 16, 2014 5:03PM
A great AMERICAN company. How long will Obama stand for that?
Apr 16, 2014 9:25PM
DC-3 is the best selling of all time.  16,079 DC-3 and derivatives ever built.  737 is halfway there.  
Apr 16, 2014 4:59PM

I remember working on United's first 100s. At that time it was called Fat Albert. No one really cared for it because it was so radically different than any of our other aeroplanes. It was also our first two man crew aeroplane which eliminated many new flight crew members. It took many years to be fully accepted by us wrench apes.

Apr 17, 2014 8:49AM
I worked at Plant 2 in Renton in 1966 and helped build the first 737 , it was then moved to the test bay where they used hydraulic jacks to stress it to the max until it finally broke.  You would be amazed at how far the wings could flex before breaking.
Apr 17, 2014 11:23AM
Ahhhh, DC-3s.....Even when they crashed, you could walk away from most of them.
Apr 16, 2014 8:58PM
The 737 is definitely not the best-selling airplane of all time. It might be the best selling passenger jet of all time but not the best-selling airplane. The Cessna 172 is the best selling airplane. It's not even close.
Apr 17, 2014 11:25AM
Same with the 172, it had a pretty good glide path too...Just have to stay away from mountains and big trees...
Apr 17, 2014 11:22AM
You are all wrong, Cessna's model 172........50,000+ built.
Apr 16, 2014 8:03PM
You could feel a whole lot better about flying Boeing if they got rid of McNerny!
Apr 16, 2014 7:39PM
I'll feel better about Boeing when they resolve the questions surrounding the 787 fires.
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