WestJet is facing indefinite delays in the delivery of dozens of new planes after a panel explosion on a Boeing 737 Max last month led to a halt to the U.S. planemaker’s production expansion.
The Calgary-based carrier has purchased 42 Boeing 737 Max 10 jetliners in 2022, with options for 22 more – in addition to about two dozen previous Max orders still pending.
The multibillion-dollar deals were expected to boost WestJet’s fleet by at least 65 planes – including 50 Max 10s – by 2029, with the airline seeing it as a major shift to reduce fuel costs and support growth.
However, the Max 10 has not yet received final certification, and after the aircraft’s ejected door incident, U.S. regulators said they would halt production expansion at Boeing until that time. for a full investigation to be completed – a process that could take more than a year.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has temporarily grounded all 737 Max 9s for inspection and launched an investigation after a panel known as a door plug tore off the fuselage of an Alaska Airlines plane while in flight on January 5, leaving a refrigerator-sized hole in the cabin wall and prompting an emergency landing.
WestJet maintained that it was able to manage the production turbulence.
“We continue to work closely with Boeing on all aspects of aircraft delivery and timelines. We believe our backlog and fleet planning have the built-in flexibility needed to support WestJet’s growth plans,” spokesperson Madison Kruger said in an email.
The Max 10 is the largest aircraft in the latest 737 range and has 20% lower carbon emissions per passenger than the previous generation. Fleet rejuvenation is key to ensuring efficiency, reducing costs (jet fuel and labor are airlines’ two biggest expenses) and showing commitment to green goals.
“WestJet’s ability to do this is being compromised by Boeing,” said John Gradek, who teaches aviation management at McGill University.
“The older the fleet gets, the more expensive and less efficient it becomes,” he said. If this plane doesn’t see the light of day for years, if ever, because of what’s happening, WestJet’s fleet renewal plans will be in jeopardy. »
The 65 new planes ordered by WestJet represent nearly 40% of its current fleet, according to Airfleets.net. Many of these would likely replace some of the 88 airliners from the previous generation of 737 aircraft over time.
The list price of 42 Max 10s ordered in 2022 was 7.6 billion, although large purchases generally come with significant discounts.
At the time, Boeing and WestJet stressed the importance of the deal.
“The 737-10 will be a game changer, with one of the lowest costs per seat among mid-range aircraft. This will promote our low-cost positioning and affordability for Canadians,” Stan Deal, who heads Boeing’s commercial airlines division, said in a statement in September 2022.
WestJet said at the time that the planes would “strengthen the airline’s presence in Western Canada and support the growth of transcontinental and leisure offerings” from Eastern Canada.