As part of the 737’s resurgence in the late 1990’s under the Next Generation name, the spearhead of this new wave of commercial aviation came in the form of the small but plucky 737-700; today among the most numerous aircraft in the skies.
The 737-700 was the first of the new Next Generation models to be launched way back in November 1993. The concept behind the aircraft was basically an extension of the development behind the earlier 737-300 Classic model, sharing essentially the same fuselage but being fitted with improved engines. The direct competition for the -700 was the rising star of the domestic aviation world, the Airbus A319.
With the appearance of the A319, many of the larger airlines were starting to get an edge over low-cost competitors, with their brand new technology quickly outpacing the slew of comparatively ancient Boeing 727’s, 737-200’s and DC-9’s. Low-Cost carriers, especially in the USA, desired something competitive, preferably home-grown, and more efficient than the 737-300. The result, upon completion in 1998, was the 737-700, which was delivered to launch customer Southwest Airlines.
In comparison to the 737-300, the -700 had a seating capacity of 140 (identical to the -300), was 6 inches longer at 110.4ft and had a greater service ceiling of 41,000ft compared to the -300’s 37,000ft. It also had an extended range of more than 800 nautical miles; capable of flying 3,235nmi as opposed to the -300’s 2,200nmi. The aircraft was also the first Boeing 737 to come with the option of Winglets. Winglets are intended to improve the efficiency of fixed-wing aircraft and come in numerous shapes and sizes; all of which function in different manners. The intended effect is always to reduce the aircraft’s drag by partial recovery of the tip vortex energy. Prior to the 737-700, only the 747-400 was available with Winglets as standard (except on the 747-400D (Domestic) versions sold in Japan; where it was determined that short-haul operations would result in a minimal yield of recovered energy).
The port side cargo door is seen in use on the 737-700C
The 737-700 came in four options for commercial use, the all-passenger configuration, the -700C (Convertible), the -700ER, and the C-40A Clipper.
The -700C was built to cater for carriers such as Alaska Airlines, where transporting cargo is just as important as passengers, and thus its design allowed for easy removal of the seats and incorporated a large cargo door on the port side of the aircraft for the easy loading and unloading of cargo containers.
The next option was the 737-700ER (Extended Range), which made its debut on January 31st, 2006, for All Nippon Airways. The 737-700ER derived much of its technology from the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ); which itself was based off the original 737-700.
The -700ER combined the basic underpinnings of the 737-700 fuselage with the wings and landing gear of the larger 737-800, and seated 126 passengers in 2-class formation. The range of the -700ER was increased to 5,510nmi, making it the second longest range for a 737 after the BBJ2.
The 737-700ER’s first outings for ANA were on services from Tokyo to Mumbai, which comprised entirely of business class seating; essentially making it another Boeing Business Jet.
The final variant of the 737-700 was the C-40A Clipper, a specially built, military grade version based on the -700C constructed for the US Navy and US Air Force. Its flight deck features a flight management computer system with an integrated GPS, and is compatible with future GATM/FANS operating environment (RNP-1), as well as being outfitted with the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System II. It also has an enhanced ground proximity warning system, predictive wind shear, head-up display and TACAN/UHF/IFF functions.
The U.S. Navy Reserve was the first customer for the C-40A, and was used to replace its fleet of ageing C-9B Skytrain II’s (based on Douglas DC-9’s). The C-40A was the first new logistics aircraft in 17 years to join the U.S. Navy Reserve, and the Reserve provides all of the Navy’s medium and heavy airlift capabilities.
Throughout its construction history, the 737-700 has wormed its way into the fleets of many important carriers; most notably its launch customer Southwest Airlines. When I used to visit the States in the 1990’s, the 737-700 was probably the aircraft I encountered the most as we’d always fly Southwest airlines when touring the continental USA. I even encountered them on my visit to Hawaii, as the now defunct Hawaiian carrier Aloha used to operate several; both for inter-island flights and services to the west coast of the U.S. and Canada. In fact, it used to baffle me that when I was in Reno, Nevada I saw Aloha Airlines flights being timetabled, naive to the fact that the 737-700’s range allowed it to operate such vast distances.
While in service, the Boeing 737-700 has suffered only two major incidents, both of which were fatal, resulting in 3 fatalities, one of which was external to the aircraft.
The first was on December 8th, 2005, when Southwest Airlines Flight 1248, skidded off a runway upon landing at Chicago Midway International Airport in heavy snow conditions. A six-year-old boy died in a car struck by the airliner after it skidded into a street. People on board the aircraft and on the ground reported several minor injuries. The aircraft involved, N471WN, became N286WN after repairs.
The other was on August 16th, 2010, when AIRES Flight 8250 crashed and split into three pieces on the Colombian island of San Andres. There was no fire and two fatalities reported. It was the first 737-700 accident leading to the aircraft being written off.
Today, the 737-700 plays a pivotal role in many major airlines across the world, and has garnered itself a reputation for being dependable and reliable.
As of 2018, 1,128 -700, 121 -700 BBJ, 22 -700C, and 14 -700W aircraft have been delivered, and production is foreseen to continue into the future. Personally, the 737-700 is my favourite variant of the 737 series of aircraft, and holds some real charm and character to its design and operation.
It’s a plucky little plane that truly delivers on its promises.