Boeing's new 737 MAX 7, the smallest member of the company’s upgraded narrow-body jetliner range, successfully completed its first flight on March 16, 2018. The aircraft will now start several months of flight trials before entry into service which is scheduled for 2019.

According to an official press release by Boeing, the MAX 7, piloted by the company’s test and evaluation captains, completed a successful 3 hour, 5-minute flight, taking off from Renton Field in Renton, at 10:17 a.m. Pacific, flying over Washington state, and landing at 1:22 p.m. at Seattle's Boeing Field.

During the flight, the airplane was put through tests on its flight controls, as well as checks of its systems and handling qualities. "Everything we saw during today's flight shows that the MAX 7 is performing exactly as designed," said Keith Leverkuhn, vice president and general manager of the 737 MAX program

The airplane is the third and newest member of Boeing's 737 MAX family to be produced, able to carry 153 passengers in 2-class configurations, with a maximum capacity of 172 passengers. The aircraft has a range of 3,850 nautical miles, the longest of any MAX family airplane, which includes the MAX 8, MAX 9 and MAX 10. The upgraded 737 MAX 7, MAX 8, and MAX 9 replace, respectively, the 737-700, 7370-800, and 737-900.

According to Boeing, the shortened 737 aircraft is designed for flying at high altitudes and hot climates or longer journeys than larger narrow-body jets. "The MAX 7 will provide airlines an efficient product for opening and flying thinner markets and accessing challenging airports," said Randy Tinseth, vice president of Marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. 

The 737 MAX family incorporates the latest CFM International LEAP-1B engines, Advanced Technology winglets, Boeing Sky Interior, large flight deck displays and other features. It is a direct competitor to Airbus A320 family. The MAX 7 competes with A319neo in the narrow-body, single-aisle market. The A319neo, compared to rival Boeing’s MAX 7 features, can carry only 140 passengers in 2-class configuration, with a maximum capacity of 160 passengers. The A319neo also has a lesser range of 3,750 nautical miles.

According to Boeing, the 737 MAX family is the fastest-selling airplane in the company’s history, with more than 4,300 orders from 93 customers worldwide. Which is why the company is increasing its narrow-body production to meet the record overall demand. However, Reuters writes, the MAX 7 has posted relatively modest sales with fewer than 100 estimated orders. Boeing declined to say how many MAX 7s it had sold but confirmed it had eight customers including Southwest and WestJet.

Analyst say the demand for jets like the MAX 7 or the A319neo is limited as airlines tend to aim for higher-capacity versions to keep up with growing demand. When asked by Reuters why the aircraft had not sold as well as the larger models, Jeff Haber, Boeing product marketing regional director, said: “I want to put a yet on that.” According to him, there are about 2,500 aircraft of its size flying that will need to be replaced in the future. “We see a significant market in Asia ... and South America,” Haber commented.

The MAX 7 remains on schedule and will now begin a comprehensive flight test program leading to certification and delivery expected in 2019. Meanwhile, the first 737 MAX 9 is set to be delivered to its first customer in the coming days.