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Boeing makes progress on 737 Max backlog

Boeing's latest single-aisle product, the 737 Max, entered the industry's premier event this year faced with high - and perhaps even impossible - expectations.

The Seattle airframer makes no secret that neither itself nor its customers save order announcements for the likes of air shows - a marketing indulgence more commonly associated with its European competitor.

At the same time, Airbus had staked a commanding lead with the first-to-market A320neo, with nearly half of its firm orders for the similarly re-engined single-aisle signed or committed at last year's Paris air show.

Narrowbody order table

Even if Boeing had no intention of making the show a platform for the 737 Max to catch up with its competitor in the orders race, its sales performance at the show proved less than overwhelming.

It was enough for Boeing to surpass one of commercial aviation's rarest milestones - the 10,000th order threshold for a single-type series, while continuing to nibble at the A320neo's lead in a practically sold-out backlog battle.

Orders and commitments for the 737 Max during the week rose by 280 aircraft.

Within that figure, the firm order backlog also grew with United Airlines' signing ceremony in Chicago for 100 aircraft, along with 75 firm orders by Air Lease Corp.

After adding Virgin Australia's firm order on the eve of the air show for 23 737 Max aircraft, Boeing's firm backlog now stands at 659, with more than 1,200 commitments from at least 18 customers, many of whom remain unidentified.

Adding hundreds of orders to the backlog of an aircraft that does not enter service for five years is no small achievement, but this still pales in comparison with the A320neo's confirmed order book for 1,429 examples of an aircraft that will enter service around two years earlier.

Airbus added a solitary firm order at Farnborough - four A321neos for Israeli carrier Arkia Airlines - as well as tentative commitments from lessor Avolon (which also committed to 737 Max aircraft) and Lebanese carrier Middle East Airlines.

That Boeing did not convert more of its commitments into orders during the show could suggest more about its customers' preferences for local signing ceremonies in home markets over the more global - or at least European - stage offered by the Farnborough air show.

It is perhaps telling that four of Boeing's five customers for the 737 Max announced during the show week came from lessors, which operate as global brokers.

The only airline to announce an order was United, which appeared to be timed with the air show week only by coincidence.

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