Boeing plans to offer a “minor model” of the 737 Max 8 that would increase seating capacity from 189 to 200 seats and cut seat-mile costs by 5 percent.
Revealing the plans during a “roundtable” discussion on Sunday in London, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner told reporters that Ryanair “would be a candidate” for the new version and that the Max 8 would follow to market the second Max model, the 737-9, now scheduled for certification in the third quarter of 2018.
Conner said the gross weight of the airplane would increase “a little bit,” making trip mile costs less than 1 percent higher. Boeing (Chalet B1-6) would not stretch the fuselage to make room for the 11 extra seats, but rather simply add an extra exit door in the mid fuselage to meet emergency egress requirements and squeeze seat pitch from the usual standard of 31 inches to roughly 29 inches.
“When you look at where we think we are with the engine, where we know we are with the airframe, that airplane will be 20 percent better on a per-seat basis in terms of fuel efficiency than the [737-800NG],” said Conner. “It’s pretty amazing that we’ve gotten that far on the Max in such a short period of time. With the new exit door we’re just taking advantage of the 88 inches of extra space in comparison to an A320.”
Asked to explain the seeming switch from Boeing’s earlier insistence that it would not do anything to distract itself from getting the three main models to market on time, Conner stressed the company’s growing confidence in the schedules it has set for the Max. “We got a lot more comfortable with where we were and where we are,” he said. “The airplane performance has continued to improve over the course of the year. So I just think it was a matter of comfort, and a matter of whether or not the customer base really showed a lot of interest in that airplane and we’ve certainly had interest in the airplane.”
The move counters Airbus’s recent decision to increase the seating capacity of the A320 from 180 to 189 seats. But according to Boeing sales chief John Wojick, Airbus will need to shrink seat pitch in the A320 to less than 28 inches to arrive at its target of 189 seats.
On the prospect of a new single-aisle airplane to fill a market niche covering a seating capacity above that of the 737 Max 9, Conner remained noncommittal. “We haven’t got anything defined at this point in time,” he said. “We have the 737 Max, the whole family, that will carry us into the mid-2020s.We’re constantly thinking about it. It’s a spot that’s not filled today, so you would think about it.”