The first of the large Boeing 737 MAX 9 models, Boeing’s newest commercial airplane, sits outside its production plant Tuesday, March 7, in Renton. Boeing has already built 13 of the initial MAX 8 models, which are awaiting FAA certification and plans to deliver its first 737 MAX airplane by May. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

In Renton, Boeing rolls out another version of the 737 MAX

RENTON — The Boeing Co. unveiled its newest jetliner — the 737 MAX 9 — Tuesday morning at a private event attended by thousands of company employees.

The airplane is on pace to take to the sky in April and is expected to enter service with airlines in 2018.

The MAX 9 is the second version of the latest upgrade to Boeing’s single-aisle 737 family. It is a stretched version of the MAX 8, which first flew in January 2016. The first MAX 8 is expected to be delivered to launch customer Norwegian in April or May. Norwegian has ordered 108 of the 737 MAX 8, which has garnered the vast majority of the 3,600 737 MAX orders so far.

With only about 220 orders so far, the MAX 9 has attracted sparse interest from airlines, airplane leasing companies and other potential customers. Rival Airbus’ A321neo has proven much more popular in the competitive single-aisle market.

“The 737 MAX team continues to do a fantastic job getting us to these important milestones right on schedule,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president Keith Leverkuhn said in a news release. He oversees the company’s 737 MAX program. “Our primary focus is delivering an aircraft that has the legendary reliability our 737 customers depend on, plus the optimized flexibility and range capability they desire.”

The MAX 9 is slated to begin system checks, fueling and engine runs on the flight line at Boeing’s Renton plant on the south shore of Lake Washington. Completing the checks will clear the airplane to start flight tests.

Boeing next plans to introduce the smaller MAX 7 and the MAX 200 — a high capacity version of the MAX 8 — in 2019. On Monday, the company confirmed that it is talking to airlines about a MAX 10, which would be larger than the MAX 9 and slightly smaller than the A321neo.

The 737 first flew in 1967. Since then, the company has introduced four major upgrades of the airplane: the 737-200 Advanced in the early 1970s; the Classics (the 737-300, -400 and -500) in the 1980s; the Next Generations (737-600, -700, -800 and -900) in the 1990s; and the MAXes (737 MAX 7, 8, 9, 200 and 10) now.

The MAXes are all powered by CFM International’s new LEAP-1B engines.

Boeing’s leaders are depending on the 737 to bring in more cash in the next few years, offsetting declining profits elsewhere.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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