Vietjet, Vietnam’s low cost carrier, and Boeing has just officially confirmed a deal for 100 737 MAX jets, boosting the total to a whooping 200. While the airline now is the biggest MAX 10 type customer in Asia, are 200 planes enough to be the biggest 737 MAX customer in the region?

Vietjet bets big, raising order to 200 MAX jets

Boeing and Vietjet have officially confirmed a 100 737 MAX deal, worth $12.7 billion order, according to list prices. The deal includes 20 MAX 8s and 80 of the larger MAX 10 variant, thus making the Vietnamese carrier the largest Asian customer of the airplane type.

Reports indicate the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could grant Category 1 rating to Vietnam “soon”, allowing the Southeast Asian nation’s airlines to fly to the U.S. and codeshare with American carriers. Vietnam’s efforts to gain the top safety ranking have been backed by U.S. giant Boeing, as the country’s airlines are major customers of both Boeing and Airbus jets.

The order was previously announced as a Memorandum of Understanding at Farnborough air show in July 2018. Vietjet placed its first order for 100 737 MAX airplanes in 2016, which “set the mark for the largest commercial jet purchase in Vietnam's aviation sector at the time,” according to the U.S. palen maker. However, Vietjet still has not taken even single aircraft from that order, as of January 31, 2019.

A move away from all-Airbus

Ever since Vietjet first took to the skies in 2011, it have operated an all-Airbus fleet, currently consisting of 23 A320s and 41 A321s. It appears, that despite 200 Boeing jets order, Vietjet is not ready to let the A’s go.

On July 18, 2018, Boeing struck a new deal with VietJet Air, by which the airline provisionally ordered 100 737 MAXs. Just a day later, the airline placed another provisional order for 50 Airbus A321neos.

Just a day after signing the 100 MAXs MoU at Farnborough, on July 19, 2018, the airline placed another provisional order, this time with Airbus, for additional 50 A321neo single-aisle jets. With this agreement, Vietnamese carrier’s backlog of orders for the A320 Family rise to 129 aircraft, including 123 A321neos and six A321 ceos.

Biggest in Asia?

Boeing held a total of 5011 737 MAX orders, 4661 of them - as a backlog (unfilled), as of January 31, 2019. Customers of a fifth of all orders, 1045, are not yet identified. Among those that are revealed, there is a tendency of placing orders in bulk, with orders of 100 planes of more.  Many of these voluminous orders are placed by leasing companies, but even them aside, Vietjet is still not the only customer that filled Boeing’s backlog with 200 planes or more.

While Boeing and Vietjet advertise that the latter’s MAX 10 order makes it the biggest customer of the type in Asia,  answering what is the biggest MAX operator in general in Asia is a sensitive matter.

Vietjet is not that far from the title. Boeing orderbook indicates, that among (the identified) airlines there is only one in Southeast Asia that has ordered more than 200 MAX jets (again, as of January 31, 2019, and without counting the unidentified buyers). Unfortunately, the other airline is Lion Air and the amount of aircraft by which it tops Vietjet is exactly one.

Lion Air placed its first 737 MAX order in February 2012 and has already began receiving deliveries since July 2017. Of its 201 airliners on order, 14 have been delivered so far, leaving the backlog at 187. But in October 2018, one of the planes that were delivered ‒ a MAX 8 ‒ crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board.

Are Boeing’s planes safe? Following Lion Air crash, Boeing issued a safety bulletin explaining certain functions on 737 MAX planes - and how to deal with them in emergency. But instead of answering concerns, it fuelled them even more. And now the question of safety is being raised in a court as well.

As for the rest of the world, there are two airlines that have bet even bigger than 200 aircraft. In the Middle East, Fly Dubai holds an order for 251 MAXs, placed back in 2013. So far, the carrier has took deliveries of 14 these aircraft.

At Boeing’s homebase Southwest Airlines (LUV) is a clear leader. Placing the initial order all the way back to December 2011, the U.S. carrier holds orders for 280 aircraft of the type. So far, it 31 of them have been delivered.