Boeing’s baby tells a story of safety

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The Boeing 737 marks a milestone in a long and increasingly safe career

A milestone in aviation history occurred shortly before flightsafetyaustralia.com went live this month: Boeing delivered its 8000th 737.

The story of the 737 illustrates parallel streams of commercial aviation: growth and safety.

What’s often forgotten now is that Boeing’s first twin jet was only marginally successful for the first decade of its life. Indeed, in 1970, Boeing considered selling the entire program.

The 737’s time came in 1988, with the introduction of the -400 series, which continued with the distinctive flat-bottomed nacelles housing high-bypass turbofans that had been introduced four years earlier on the -300 series. The -300 and -400 turned out to be the right types of aircraft, at the right time for a global airline industry that was expanding and deregulating. Of the 8000 737s, about 6500 have rolled off the production line since 1988. Boeing delivered only 22 737s in 1972, but in 2012 there were 412 deliveries.

By Boeing’s estimation there are 200 737s in flight at any given moment, with a take-off or touchdown every 2.0 seconds. The 5500 737s in service represent about a quarter of the world’s large commercial jet fleet, Boeing says.

Other 737 numbers tell a no less dramatic safety story. Over its career, the 737-200 series has had 114 hull loss accidents, of the 1114 aircraft made. The -300s of 1984 to 1999 had 19 hull losses from the 1113 produced. Only three of the 1070 -700 series made to date have been lost, and only 11 of the 1513 -800 series. (Both types remain in production)

While the 737, like commercial aviation in general, presents an image of continuity, the changes behind its elegant nose – recognisably similar to that of the -8 Boeing 707 prototype of 1955 – have been immense. Boeing plans to refine the design into the 737 MAX, with first delivery planned for 2017, half a century after 737-100 first flew.

You can read more about the safest airliners here.

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