Boeing could both re-engine its 737 and build an entirely new airplane to replace the existing model, according to company CEO Jim McNerney. The Boeing boss also gave the company until the end of the year to achieve “a sharper view” on its ultimate approach to a narrowbody re-engining/replacement, appearing to lessen the likelihood that it would announce any significant new developments related to its 737 line during this year’s Paris Air Show.
Nevertheless, McNerney stressed that the company hasn’t fundamentally changed its thinking since it last indicated that it would offer further “clarity” on its plans by the middle of this year. “I’m not trying to signal any change here,” said McNerney. “This is the year where we’ve got to harden up our plans to give our customers and our suppliers the direction they need, and this is all during 2011.”
McNerney did add, however, that, the final decision could involve some combination of what at one time appeared mutually exclusive choices. “That is not something that looks probable now, but it is part of our consideration,” he said about the possibility of offering both a re-engined airplane and a replacement. “I think the logic goes that if you’re offering a new plane just a few years after your competitor is offering a re-engined plane, and you’re already continually improving what you’ve got, that step does not need to be taken. But all options remain on the table.”
McNerney said earlier that Boeing’s “bias” continues to steer it toward an all-new airplane to enter service in 2019 or 2020. He also insisted that the success of the Airbus A320neo has not significantly affected the sales prospects for the current 737, and that the company continues to consider the possibility of raising production of the 737NG beyond the increased rates it has already announced for 2013. Plans call for the 737’s production rate to grow from 31.5 to 35 per month in early 2012 and again, to 38 per month, during the second quarter of 2013.
The Boeing CEO again stressed that the Neo represents an effort to “close the [efficiency] gap” between the A320 and 737NG, and that all indications show that the Airbus re-engining project has hurt the sales prospects for the Bombardier C Series far more than it has affected the Boeing narrowbody. “The order environment [for the 737] is robust,” he said. “Yes, there is a bias toward raising production rates even higher than we’ve announced. I think the Neo has not to date had a significant impact on our customer base. It seems to have done a good job fending off the Canadians in the Airbus customer base.”
McNerney’s comments came a day after the second Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, RC021, flew for the first time. Piloted by Captains Keith Otsuka and Ron Johnston, RC021 took off on April 26 at 9:26 a.m. Pacific time from Paine Field in Everett, Wash., and landed in Everett three hours and 20 minutes later. The airplane reached an altitude of 28,000 feet and an airspeed of 275 knots. Plans call for RC021 to test various interior systems, such as heating, venting and air conditioning, smoke detection and galleys. Boeing also expects to conduct fuel consumption and function and reliability tests on the airplane. All told, the 747-8 Intercontinental flight-test program schedule calls for some 600 hours of flight testing.