Monday, July 19, 2010

LAX aircraft spotters' guide: Boeing 737, Part 1: Operators (revised)

I started the LAX aircraft spotters' guide series last year, and while I meant for it to be an occasional feature, I didn't intend for it to be so long before continuation. Last time, we looked at the Airbus 330, a subject that now deserves an update, perhaps later in the series. This time, we'll go from a relatively uncommon (at LAX, anyway) model to one that has to be ubiquitous: the Boeing 737. Possibly best known as the mainstay of Southwest's fleet, the B737 has appeared in the colors of too many airlines to even count. Some carriers at LAX used to have B737s that have since been phased out in favor of something else, while others have gone from something else to B737s. I'll be dredging through my archives to show you as many different B737 carriers and liveries as I can find.

There have been more Boeing 737s produced than any other model of airliner: over 6,000 to date, with over 2,000 more on order; it's the best-selling airliner of all time. Originally developed as a shorter-range and smaller capacity alternative to the B707 and B727, the B737 has outlived them both. Since first flown in 1967, the B737 has grown into a trans-continental and ocean-crossing mainstay of the airliner fleet. There are many sub-one-hour B737 flights out of LAX, primarily to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and the Bay Area (Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose). At the other end of the range, our longest B737 flights run five to six hours: Anchorage, Boston, Honolulu, and Panama.

We regularly see seven different models of the B737 at LAX: The -300/-400/-500 models, known as the "Classic" series; and the current-production "Next Generation" -600/-700/-800/-900. It's been quite some time since I've seen an original -200 here. Within each model there are additional versions, such as cargo or combi, extended range or long range; most of these are invisible to ATC, and I don't try to keep track of them.

The B737 will be a mini-series within the spotter's guide series; I'll start this time with a roster of current B737 operators at LAX:

American operates B737-800s, which are gradually replacing the MD82s and MD83s

AeroMexico brings in mostly B737-700s like this one, with an occasional -800

AirTran (callsign: Citrus) uses B737-700s

Alaska has B737-400s, -700s, -800s, and -900s; seen here is a -700 taxiing in with a -800 on departure

Continental has the greatest variety, with -500s, -700s, -800s, and -900s; these are both -800s

Copa brings in -800s (and new at LAX this weekend, a -700)

Delta has B737-800s, seen here in new and old liveries

Southwest has -300s, -500s, and -700s; blue is a -500, gold is a -700

Sun Country uses B737-700s and -800s; this is a -800

WestJet has -600s, -700s, and -800s; this one is a -800

And now some former B737 users at LAX:

Aviacsa was a Mexican carrier that disappeared from LAX several years ago; they were the last scheduled operator here to use B737-200s like this one. Compare the long, skinny engine cowlings to those on all the newer models; this model used more fuel and made much more noise and smoke than its replacements. In addition, while the engines on these older models were under the wings, newer models (such as the one in the next photo) have their engines mounted ahead of the wings.

United phased out its B737s last year; their last one, a -300, passed through LAX on its final revenue flight. This one is a -500

US Air rarely brings B737s into LAX anymore; this shot was taken about two years ago. This -300 still flies for US Air, though; previously it was with America West

We don't just see B737s in airline colors; the BBJ (Boeing Business Jet) is a corporate version of the B737. Most of these appear to be BBJ1s, which are based on the -700; but there is also a -800 version, known as the (wait for it) BBJ2. And of course, some are simply converted airliners (which is how Boeing got the idea in the first place, as has Airbus; It works the other way, too: today's regional jets have their roots in business jets). Unlike airlines, whose aircraft serve double duty as really expensive portable billboards, corporate jets tend to be very low-key; hardly ever is there any indication of who they fly for.

This is what a brand-new BBJ looks like. Unlike the airliner models, which tend to leave the factory fully finished and ready (or nearly so) to enter service, the corporate versions often leave as "green" aircraft, lacking paint and interiors. They then go to another facility, known as a completion center, for these finishing touches. This aircraft showed up over the weekend, and was one of the motivations for revising this edition.


  1. I love the 737. Thanks for the post and the photos!

  2. I understand Boeing is looking to discontinue production of the Guppy in the next few years. With 2000 on order I find it hard to believe.

    My mother is a flight attendant for WN. She used to complain about the "long" flight on their old 200's. BNA-PHX (I believe) was Southwest's longest 732 flight. Now they're doing BWI-LAX


  3. I'm confused (so what else is new?) Is 738 shorthand for 737-800?

  4. Tom: Glad you like it; stick around - there's more to come

    Ben: I had not heard that Boeing wants to get out of the Guppy business; if so it would be curious, since it's their best-seller and as far as I know they won't have a replacement anytime soon. I've no doubt that Airbus will be glad to fill that void . . .

    N: Sorry, yes; the aircraft identifiers we use in ATC and on flight plans incorporate the version as part of the aircraft model. Thus, a B737-800 is a B738, a B737-900 is a B739, and so on. This does get a bit confusing on the -700, since that is a B737 (just like the 'generic' identification). I've revised the photo captions to clarify.

  5. Great blog Captain Vector! You offer a lot of information, with a great view from above. I've tried my best to cover things from the ground. ;-) Perhaps we've met?

    Keep up the great work!