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The Boeing 737, The Best Selling Plane Ever.

Updated on January 19, 2022
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Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.

The Highest Selling

With all the bad press that flooded the world in March 2019, the Boeing 737 Max 8 has brought the 737 series back into the spotlight after some 40+ years in the shadows. The 737 is such a workhorse aircraft that it's simply overlooked. Believe it or not, the worldwide 2019 grounding of the the Max 8 and Max 9 series 737s barely puts a dent in the number of 737s still flying. Like the immortal B-52 military aircraft, the 737 keeps going and going. At any given time, 1,200 are airborne worldwide with one landing or taking off every 5 seconds. It is the best selling commercial aircraft in history, even outlasting the 757 and 767 built to replace it. Here's a look back at over 50 years and 15,000 planes.

A Boeing 737-100
A Boeing 737-100

737-100 Model

Originally conceived as a running mate for the 727, similar in size, configuration and capacity. Eventually the aircraft evolved to a larger one with a bigger seating capacity. After extensive testing, the FAA certified the aircraft in December 1967 with Lufthansa ordering the very first 21. Sales for the 737-100 were disappointing with only 30 jets delivered. Turns out the size of the aircraft with its 100 seat capacity didn't meet commercial demands. The original Boeing 737-100 prototype completed its Boeing career in 1973 and was turned over to NASA who operated it as a testing aircraft for 30 years before putting it on display. No 737-100s are currently flying.

A Boeing 737-200
A Boeing 737-200

737-200 Model

United Airlines wanted an aircraft with a larger seating capacity. Boeing responded by stretching the 737 almost eight feet and improved aerodynamics. The engines were also replaced which increased the range. Rolled out in June 1967, sales were substantially better with 1,095 aircraft built between 1968 and 1988. Phasing out of the 737-200 began in the 2000's with the final U.S. passenger flight in March 2008. A few are still in service throughout the world. The oldest operating 737 in the world belongs to Airfast Indonesia, a 737-200 with serial number 20335. Built in 1970 and still in active commercial service after nearly 50 years.

A Southwest 737-300
A Southwest 737-300

737-300, -400, -500 "Classic Generation" Models

Eager to follow the success of the 200 series, Boeing pushed development of a new generation of 737 with greater range and efficiency. This second generation derivative of the 737 began with the 300 series and would run through the 500 series. This generation that would later be dubbed, the "Classic Generation" and its service spanned the 1980s and beyond.

The biggest change that came with the 300 series was the installation of new, bigger engines. Engineers were faced with a big problem. The 737's low ground clearance, a necessity in the 1960s before airports had jetways, was now a hindrance. This required creative engineering when it came to hanging the newer larger engines.

The 400 series brought a stretch length of an additional 10 feet to the fuselage and an increased passenger capacity. The 400 had an long and enjoyable career as a cargo plane. The last 400 was delivered in 2000 before officially replaced by the 737-800.

The 500 series began the now decades old trend of 737s replacing 737s. Officially billed as a direct modern replacement to the now 20+ year old 200 series. It was launched with an order from Southwest Airlines in 1987. It quickly became a favorite with international airlines to replace their old 200s. Phase out of the 500 series itself began in the early 2010s.

A Boeing 737-800.
A Boeing 737-800.

737-600, -700, -800, -900 "The Next Generation" Models

1990s. Enter the Airbus A320 and with it, a major threat to Boeing's market share. Until then, Boeing had a virtual monopoly with some like United Airlines flying only Boeing built aircraft. In 1991, United jumped ship with their first Airbus order. The A320 was a brand new aircraft, state-of-the-art with a longer range and better efficiency. Eager to reclaim the market, Boeing authorized the complete redesign of the 737 into a modern aircraft. They called it, "The Next Generation".

The wings were completely rebuilt and the fuel capacity increased. The cockpit was completely redesigned and the interior modernized, pulling elements from Boeing's 777. By the time Boeing finished its modernization, the 737 was essentially a new airplane minus the fuselage itself.

The -600, -700, and -800 were released in tandem with developments and roll outs interwoven. The very first Next Gen to roll out was a -700 on December 8, 1996. The -800 prototype rolled out a year later. The -600 was the smallest of the new 737s and the least popular with just 69 aircraft produced. Officially replacing the 737-500, it was targeted to compete with the Airbus A318. Its phaseout began in 2012.

The -700 replaced the 737-300 series and competed directly with the Airbus A319 in size, weight, and capabilities. Over 1,100 -700s were produced with final deliveries in 2018. Phaseout of the -700 series will begin in 2023.

The -800 series became the most popular and successful of the Next Generation 737s. The -800 replaced a number of aircraft in the sky while competing with the Airbus A320. As a stretched -700, it officially replaced the 737-400. The recently completed merger of Boeing with McDonnell Douglas allowed the -800 to close the gap left by newly discontinued Douglas MD-80 and MD-90 aircraft. Finally it began replacing the last of the still flying passenger 727s, a pattern completed in early 2019. So far nearly 5,000 737-800s have been built.

The biggest and final "Next Generation" series, the 737-900 was delivered in 2001. Built not only to compete with the Airbus A321 but also to replace the newer Boeing 757, originally built to replace the 737 itself. Variants of the -900 extended the range, seating capacity and fuel efficiency. Boeing is closing in on filling all -900 orders.

A 737-MAX 7.
A 737-MAX 7.

Boeing 737-Max Models

When Boeing released its brand new 787 Dreamliner in the mid 2000s, it began to rethink the 737. Airbus released the A321neo Series with improved fuel economy and range. American Airlines announced a massive 460 plane order of A321neos, shattering Boeing's monopoly with the airline. Boeing responded with the announcement of the 737-MAX, a total redesign of their workhorse airplane. The MAX would burn 4% less fuel than the A321neo. The engines were rebuilt and new winglets and tail cone were added.

Three variants of the MAX were designed and released, the MAX 7, 8, and 9 which were designed to replace the -700, -800 and -900. A fourth variant the MAX 10 is currently under development since the Airbus 321neo is currently outselling the MAX 9 5-1. To date over 5,000 MAX aircraft have been ordered. By the time of the worldwide groundings of the MAX series in 2019, less than 400 had been delivered.


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