June 15, 2016 / 10:49 PM / 2 years ago

Canada's WestJet considers new 737 jet variant

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada’s WestJet Airlines WJA.TO said Wednesday it would consider a slightly larger version of Boeing Co’s BA.N 737 MAX 7 jet with more seats, as the carrier prepares to take delivery of 65 narrowbodies from the planemaker through 2027.

“We’re still working with Boeing on the 737 and the MAX program,” WestJet Chief Financial Officer Harry Taylor said in an interview.

“If it (the option of a larger MAX 7) looks like that’s a good alternative, or a better alternative, we’ll take advantage of it for sure.”

WestJet has looked at a larger possible variant of the MAX 7, the smallest plane in Boeing’s revamped 737 line, which seats 126 passengers. It joins U.S. low cost carrier Southwest Airlines Co LUV.N in expressing interest in a proposed MAX 7X, which according to an April report in the Wall Street Journal would have 150 seats.

Boeing declined to comment Wednesday on whether it would go forward with a larger 7X.

Boeing, in an effort to be more competitive against rival Airbus Group SE AIR.PA, has considered revamping both its 7X, and in the longer run, its MAX 9 plane by equipping it with a larger engine. 

“We’re talking to customers and ready to do these if they want it,” a source familiar with Boeing’s thinking said recently.

WestJet has ordered 65 of the 737 MAX planes from Boeing, including 25 of the smaller MAX 7 jets, with delivery starting in 2019. Deliveries of the remaining 40 orders of the larger 737 MAX 8 aircraft are to begin in 2017.

Taylor said WestJet is working with Boeing on the configuration of the planes it has ordered and wants to strike the optimal balance between passenger comfort and density, including features like the seat pitch, or distance between a seat and the seat in front of it.

“We don’t want to damage the guest experience through that (packing in seats),” Taylor said on the sidelines of the Insight Canadian Airline Investment Conference in Toronto. “Some airlines have put such aggressive pitch in that it’s a poor guest experience.”

Taylor said WestJet will also own 45 of Bombardier Inc’s BBDb.TO Q400 turboprops by the end of 2018.

Reporting by Allison Lampert in Toronto, additional reporting by Alwyn Scott in New York; editing by Tom Brown

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