A step-up replacement for the Boeing 737-500, the 737-600 is another one of Boeing’s examples of a pointless aircraft, an aircraft that seems to fall into a hole in the market because that part of the market had either been superseded or didn’t exist in the first place.
To trace the 737-600, you need to look back at its ancestor, the 737-500. Launched in 1989, the 737-500’s job was to replace many ageing Boeing 737-200’s that dated back to the 1970’s, and it worked very well, with several hundred examples being sold worldwide. The 737-600 derives much of its technology from its predecessor, including being the same length but seating a smaller capacity at only 130 passengers as opposed to the -500’s 140 passengers. The aircraft also differed by way of having an updated powerplant, consisting of two CFM56-7B18, 20 or 22 series engines, giving the aircraft a range of 3,200 miles.
The primary competitor for the Boeing 737-600 at the time of its launch in September 1998 was the Airbus A318, Airbus’ smallest ever aircraft and one that would be used to serve the small airfield market. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) was both the airline that requested the -600 and the one that was the launch customer, using the -600 as a major part of its operations to smaller airports in the remote reaches of northern Norway and Sweden. Upon its launch, the aircraft was noted for being a very reliable and useful piece of kit, with other airlines operating low-capacity services to remote regions with small airports also taking on several members, examples being WestJet of Canada.
However, the 737-600’s initial sales burst came to an abrupt halt after only 2 years, with orders dropping from 24 units in 1999 to 6 units in 2000 and 4 in 2001. Eventually the 737-600 would only go on to sell 69 examples before being removed from product listing in 2012, the last of these aircraft being delivered way back in October 2006 to WestJet.
The reason for the 737-600’s abrupt failure was due to the fact that it intended to replace the -500, which, at the time of its launch, was only 10 years old, barely broken in. Many airlines saw the -600 as near enough pointless, they were happy with the reliable -500 so what was the point in updating their pretty much brand new model?
As a result, the aircraft could only garner a measly 69 sales, but that doesn’t mean that the aircraft is at all bad. In fact it’s considered among the most reliable aircraft in the air, having so far (01/2017) never suffered a hull-loss. All examples currently remain in operation, their primary users being SAS and WestJet who use them extensively. It’s a shame though because the 737-600 could have garnered itself a market if it hadn’t been marketed as a replacement for the -500. It should instead have been marketed as a facelift or a continued production but under a different name, but as a replacement, the intended goal being to have airlines which had just spent a fortune buying brand new -500’s to change them over to -600’s at extra expense and after barely any time in service, it was pointless!