Boeing made its plans to re-engine the 737NG official on August 30, when it announced board approval to proceed with development of a CFM Leap-1B-powered version of the world’s best selling commercial airplane, dubbed the 737 MAX. However, the company has yet to decide where it will build the new family of airplanes.
The current site of 737 production–Renton, Wash.–tops the list of possibilities, said Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh, but plans already call for that factory to raise monthly production rates from today’s 31.5 to 42 by early 2014. A transition from 737NGs to 737 MAXs and a likely need for further increases by the time the re-engined airplanes enter production in 2017 could figure prominently into Boeing’s decision. In any case, Albaugh said the company would announce a plan within six to eight months.
Not coincidentally, the new nomenclature for the re-engined 737s closely resembles that of the 787 family; Boeing has adopted the names 737 MAX 7, MAX 8 and MAX 9, respectively, to correspond with the 737-700, -800 and -900NG.
Boeing claims the new 737 MAX 8 will produce a 7-percent operating cost advantage over its direct competition–the Airbus A320neo, whose family has already drawn firm orders and “commitments” for 1,200 airplanes since its launch last December. The A320neo, scheduled for first deliveries in 2015, will come equipped with either CFM Leap-X variants or versions of the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G Geared Turbofan.
Meanwhile, Boeing hopes to deliver the first re-engined 737NG in 2017, likely to a carrier other than American Airlines, which last month became the first customer to publicize its intention to commit to the Leap-1B-powered narrowbodies. Although American accounts for 100 of the company’s claimed commitments for 496 airplanes from five airlines, Albaugh said that 85 percent of the backlog for the airplanes resides outside the U.S.
The BCA chief executive said that the company would finish its evaluation of the final fan size of the new engines “in the next several weeks”; current plans call for either a 68-inch or 66-inch fan. The 66-inch option would require no changes to the airplane’s landing gear, said Albaugh, while a 68-inch fan might force some “minor” changes to the front landing gear. Other changes would likely involve some “localized stiffening,” strengthening of wing structures and perhaps reinforcement to the so-called side-of-body join to accommodate the heavier engines.