Malindo Air, an Asian low-cost carrier, got the keys Tuesday to Boeing's first 737 MAX to enter commercial service, although Southwest, the world's largest 737 operator, is still the official 'launch customer.'
The MAX family is the latest update to the 737 family, which marks its 50th anniversary in the air this year. It's the most popular family of airliners ever, with planes ever, with over 9400 delivered and another 4400 on order. But despite that success, the MAX series is critical for Boeing; its competition is Airbus's A320neo, and the competition is tight.
The first 737s were 100-seat planes, but revisions and stretches since then have brought the latest models up to about 200 seats. Southwest, Ryanair and American Airlines are the biggest 737 operators.
Malindo got to the head of the line because the planes are ready sooner than expected; Southwest opted to take its first order later this year, because its plans for retiring older planes and using the MAX called for an October start.
Norwegian Air Shuttle is taking its first later this month and five more in June, and will immediately put them to work on routes between Ireland, Scotland and three smaller U.S. airports at Hartford, Providence and Newburgh, NY.