Photo: Canadian Press
A WestJet logo is seen in the domestic check-in area at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, BC, on Friday, May 19, 2023. The aftermath of a dashboard explosion during flight on a plane manufactured by Boeing Co. has arrived in Canada as WestJet faces indefinite delays on dozens of aircraft deliveries.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
WestJet is facing indefinite delays in deliveries of dozens of new aircraft following an explosion in the dashboard of a Boeing 737 Max plane last month that led to the halt in the U.S. aircraft maker's production expansion.
The Calgary-based carrier has purchased 42 Boeing 737 Max 10 jets in 2022, with options for 22 more — in addition to nearly two dozen previous Max orders still in progress.
The multibillion-dollar deals were set to bolster WestJet's fleet by at least 65 planes – 50 of them Max 10s – by 2029, in a move the airline called “revolutionary” that would reduce fuel costs and “sustain” its growth.
However, the Max 10 has not yet received final certification, and following the panel incident, US regulators said they would halt production expansion at Boeing until a full investigation was completed – a process that could take more than a year. .
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has temporarily grounded all 737 Max 9s for inspection and launched an investigation after a panel known as a door plug came loose from the fuselage of an Alaska Airlines plane during flight on Jan. 5, leaving a hole. the size of a refrigerator. the cabin wall and requesting an emergency landing.
WestJet said it could handle the production turmoil.
“We continue to work closely with Boeing on all aspects of aircraft delivery and schedules. We believe our backlog and fleet planning have the built-in flexibility to support WestJet’s growth plans,” spokeswoman Madison Kruger said in an email.
The Max 10 is the largest plane in the latest 737 line and offers 20% fewer carbon emissions per passenger than the previous generation. Fleet rejuvenation is essential to ensuring efficiency, reducing costs – jet fuel and labor are airlines' two biggest expenses – and showing a commitment to green goals.
“WestJet’s ability to do this is compromised by Boeing,” said John Gradek, who teaches aviation management at McGill University.
“The older the fleet becomes, the more expensive and less efficient it becomes,” he said.
“If this plane doesn’t see the light of day for years – or ever – because of what’s happening, the plans that WestJet has for fleet renewal will be in jeopardy.”
The 65 new aircraft ordered by WestJet represent nearly 40% of its current fleet, according to Airfleets.net. Many of these would likely replace some of the 88 previous-generation 737 planes over time.
The list price for the 42 Max 10s ordered in 2022 totaled $7.6 billion, although big purchases typically come with deep discounts.
At the time, both Boeing and WestJet emphasized the importance of the agreement.
“The 737-10 will be a game changer, with one of the lowest costs per seat among midsize aircraft. This will further our low-cost and accessibility positioning for Canadians,” said Stan Deal, who heads Boeing’s commercial airline division. in a statement in September 2022.
WestJet then said the planes would “strengthen the airline's presence in Western Canada and support the growth of Eastern Canada's transcontinental and leisure offerings.”