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Stretched Boeing 737 MAX entices Canada’s WestJet

Airline open to idea of larger narrowbody jet from US plane maker but says balance between customer experience and seat capacity is key.
A Westjet aircraft taxis at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Ben Nelms/Bloomberg
A Westjet aircraft taxis at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Ben Nelms/Bloomberg

Canada’s WestJet Airlines said it would consider a larger version of Boeing’s 737 MAX 7 jet with more seats, as the carrier prepares to take delivery of 65 narrowbodies from the plane maker through 2027.

“We’re still working with Boeing on the 737 and the MAX programme,” said the WestJet chief financial officer Harry Taylor.

“If it [the option of a larger MAX 7] looks like that’s a good alternative, or a better alternative, we’ll take advantage of it for sure.”

WestJet has looked at a larger possible variant of the MAX 7, the smallest plane in Boeing’s revamped 737 line, which seats 126 passengers. It joins the US low cost carrier Southwest Airlines in expressing interest in a proposed MAX 7X, which according to an April report in The Wall Street Journal would have 150 seats.

Boeing declined to comment on whether it would go forward with a larger 7X.

The jet maker, in an effort to be more competitive against its rival Airbus, has considered revamping both its 7X and, in the longer run, its MAX 9 plane by equipping it with a larger engine.

“We’re talking to customers and ready to do these if they want it,” a source familiar with Boeing’s thinking said recently.

WestJet has ordered 65 of the 737 MAX planes from Boeing, including 25 of the smaller MAX 7 jets, with delivery starting in 2019. Deliveries of the remaining 40 orders of the larger 737 MAX 8 aircraft are to begin in 2017.

Mr Taylor said WestJet is working with Boeing on the configuration of the planes it has ordered and wants to strike the optimal balance between passenger comfort and density, including features such as the seat pitch, or distance between a seat and the seat in front of it.

“We don’t want to damage the guest experience through that [packing in seats],” Mr Taylor said on the sidelines of the Insight Canadian Airline Investment Conference in Toronto. “Some airlines have put such aggressive pitch in that it’s a poor guest experience.”

Mr Taylor said WestJet will also own 45 of Bombardier Inc’s Q400 turboprops by the end of 2018.

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Published: June 16, 2016 04:00 AM

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