Southwest Airlines Co. expects to take delivery of 10 of the latest version of Boeing Co.’s 737 before it begins flying the aircraft commercially next year, a consequence of the plane’s smoother-than-expected development.

The airline is still discussing a delivery schedule for the Max 8 with Boeing and plans to take the planes by late August or early September of next year, Southwest Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said during a Friday interview aboard a test model of the aircraft. Boeing has said the plane will be ready to make its debut in the second quarter.

The Max 8 will allow Southwest to fly farther than it can now, a benefit as the carrier begins to expand its young international operations. It also offers a fuel-efficiency improvement of about 14 percent over current models and will be the first with the Leap-1B engine built by CFM International Inc., a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France’s Safran SA.

“It feels like it’s the first day of a big part of our future,” Van de Ven said as the Max stopped at Dallas Love Field during a series of test flights. “There’s just a lot of excitement at Southwest.”

Launch Customer

Southwest is considered the launch customer for the upgraded narrow-body jets because it placed the first order for the Max, the fastest-selling jet in Boeing’s history. But whether the low-cost carrier will be the first to fly the plane commercially is in question. The new 737 is running months ahead of schedule, a rarity for commercial jetliners.

Boeing has already built the first of the 737s headed for Southwest, even though the new aircraft won’t be handed over until flight-testing concludes and the planes are certified as airworthy. The planemaker is building the Max along side current-model 737s while it prepares to speed combined output next year to 47 planes a month from the current 42.

Flight Schedule

Before flying the Max, Southwest has to retire its oldest planes, a process now expected to be finished in September 2017. A flight schedule being crafted over the next six months or so may allow the start of Max flights to “move up or back a little bit,” Van de Ven said.

Southwest has orders for 30 of Boeing’s Max 7 aircraft, the smallest of the new 737, with deliveries starting in 2019. The carrier has no plans now to purchase a so-called Max 10, a stretched version of the largest 737 model that Boeing is considering. Possible flights across the Atlantic are “really not on the radar,” he said.

“We haven’t had any serious interest in that right now,” Van de Ven said. “When we look at our opportunities going forward with the Max 7 and 8, there are 50 additional destinations we could serve and up to 500-ish airplanes over the next 20 years that we could take in that size that fit with our point-to-point network. There’s no reason for us at this point to go look for an airplane that would put us outside of what our current business model is.”

–With assistance from Julie Johnsson

©2016 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by MARY SCHLANGENSTEIN from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Photo Credit: Southwest Airlines is the launch customer for the 737 Max, and it plans to first take Max 8s, and then later Max 7s. But Southwest may not be the first airline to place the new 737 in revenue service. Boeing