The Boeing 737 Max is embroiled in controversy after two deadly crashes in five months. Here's how the plane came to be.

Stephen Brashear / Stringer / Getty ImagesA Boeing 737 MAX 8.
  • The Boeing 737 is the best-selling airliner of all time with more than 15,000 aircraft ordered.
  • Boeing has introduced four distinct generations of the 737 since the 1960s. The latest is the 737 Max that entered service in 2017.
  • Two nearly brand new Boeing 737 Max airliners have crashed since October with the latest being Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 on Sunday.
  • Airlines and safety regulators around the world have grounded the 737 Max. However, the FAA and Boeing standby the airworthiness of the plane.
  • Here’s a closer look at the history of the Boeing 737 and its latest Max variant.

This week, airlines made the decision to ground their fleets of Boeing 737 Max airliners. Some safety regulators have outright banned the plane from entering its airspace.

This reaction to one of the most popular airliners in history stems from the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 on Sunday. The Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. The incident killed all 157 passengers and crew on board the four-month-old plane.

It’s the second nearly brand new Boeing 737 Max 8 airliner in recent months to be involved in a fatal crash. In October, Lion Air Flight JT610 crashed in the Java Sea shortly after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board.

Boeing, the US Federal Aviation Administration, and its US operators stand by the airworthiness of the plane.

Read more: Two Boeing 737 MAX airliners have crashed since October – here are the airlines that fly the plane.

The Boeing 737 is ubiquitous. If you’ve taken a commercial flight in the past 50 years, there’s a good chance it was on a Boeing 737.

That’s because Boeing has sold a whole lot of them. Since 1965, the American aviation giant has taken orders for a whopping 15,000 737s. In April 2018, Boeing delivered the 10,000th 737, a new Max 8 model, to Southwest Airlines.

To put that into perspective, Boeing’s second-best-selling plane, the wide-body 777, has received a little fewer than 2,000 orders. But it should be noted that the long-haul Boeing 777 costs several times more than the 737 and is used in different segments of the airline market.

Over the years, Boeing has introduced four distinct generations of the 737. The latest is the 737 Max that entered service in 2017. Thus far, Boeing has sold roughly 5,000 737 Max jets, making it the fastest selling plane in company history.

Here’s a closer look at the history of the Boeing 737 and its Max variant:

In 1964, Boeing began work on a 50-to-60 seat narrow-body airliner designed for trips between 50 and 1,000 miles. It would also be roughly half the size Boeing’s smallest jet at the time, the 727.

At the time, Boeing was best known for its larger jets like the 707 and the eight-engine B-52 bomber.

As a result, the plane that launched in January 1967 became known as the Baby Boeing. The original 737 is what we would today call a regional jet.


To save time, Boeing allowed the 737 to share the same upper half of the fuselage as the larger 707 and 727. As a result, the cabin of the Baby Boeing is the same width as the company’s larger jets. This means six-abreast seating.


A layout the 737 retains to this day.

Southwest Airlines

That’s one more seat per row than the rival Douglas DC-9.

The 737’s original customers include launch customer Lufthansa, United, and Malaysia-Singapore Airlines, the predecessor to today’s Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines.


The original Boeing 737 prototype never entered commercial service and instead spent a couple of decades as a NASA test platform. The plane can now be found at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

In December 1967, Boeing delivered the first production 737-100 to Lufthansa. The plane eventually earned the nickname Bobby, after a character in a children’s book the airline would hand out to young passengers.


The 737-200 is based on the Dash 100, but with a slightly longer fuselage. The first Dash 200 was delivered to launch customer United Airlines a day after Lufthansa received its first 737-100. The 737-100/200 was powered by Pratt & Whitney’s venerable JT8D low-bypass turbofan engines. The 737-200 remained in production until 1988.


In 1981, Boeing launched the second generation 737, dubbed the Classic. The new planes would come with CFM56 high-bypass turbofan engines that were quieter, more efficient, and more powerful than the units found on the Dash 100/200.

Markus Schmal /

The 737 Classic comes in three variants. The 126-seat 737-300, the 147-seat 737-400, and the 110-seat 737-500. The Dash 300 proved to be the most popular of the three with more than 1,000 sold.

Southwest Airlines

In the mid-1980s, the marketplace for narrow-body airliners experienced a seismic shift with the introduction of the Airbus A320-family. The European Airbus finally gave the 737 a true rival.


In reaction to this threat, Boeing launched the third-generation 737 in 1993. The Boeing 737-600,-700,-800,-900, and -900ER would become known as the Next Generation, or NG.

The Boeing 737NG ranged from the 132-seat 737-600 to…

Konwicki Marcin /

… the 220-seat 737-900/900ER.


The most popular version of the NG is the 189-seat 737-800.

American Airlines

In 2011, Boeing launched the fourth-generation 737 called the Max. The plane eventually entered service in 2017.


The Max is a direct rival for the second generation Airbus A320 called the A320neo.


The 737 Max comes with updated avionics, turbofan engines, new wings, and avionics.


… state-of-the-art, fuel-efficient CFM LEAP 1B engines, and …


… new, more aerodynamic wings.

Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

It comes in four variants. The lineup ranges from the 172-seat MAX 7 to the 230-seat MAX 10. The 210-seat MAX 8 and the 220-seat MAX 9 seem to be the most popular with airlines. (Boeing does not publish detailed sales breakdowns of the various MAX variants.)


Since the 1960s, Boeing has sold more than 15,000 737s, of which more than 5,000 are of the MAX variant.


Listed prices for the 737 Max range from $US99.7 million for the Max 7 to $US134.9 million for the Max 10. The 737 Max 8 lists for $US121.6 million. However, according to industry research from Teal Group, buyers usually receive a 50% to 55% discount on the planes.


The Boeing 737’s largest customer is Southwest Airlines. The Dallas-based low-cost carrier operates a fleet of 750 737NG and Max aircraft.

American and United also operate the 737 Max.

United Airlines

All Boeing 737s are assembled at Boeing’s Renton, Washington plant. According to Boeing, the company’s produces 52 737 a month with plans to increase production to 57 a month during 2019.


Boeing has delivered more than 350 737 Max jet to airlines around the world.


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