Boeing has sold 205 BBJs based on all of its aircraft models and that includes its two newest widebodies: the 787 twinjet and the 747-8 Intercontinental, the latest iteration of its iconic jumbo quad jet. Twin-aisle jets now represent the majority of the BBJ backlog. VVIP customers have ordered nine of the $318 million (green) 747s and 12 of the $185 million 787s. “Right now our backlog of twin-aisle airplanes is larger than our backlog of 737-based airplanes,” said BBJ president Steve Taylor. “I don’t think any of us saw that coming.”
The original 737-based BBJ remains the company’s best seller by unit volume, with 154 sold by Boeing through mid-year; 15 were BBJ2s and about nine BBJ3s. The BBJ was created in 1996 in partnership with General Electric, joint maker with Snecma of the CFM56 series engines for newer 737s.
The BBJ matches components from two 737 models–the main fuselage of the 737-700 and the larger wing and the center fuselage section and the landing gear of the 737-800. The belly of the airplane can be outfitted with from three to 10 auxiliary fuel tanks, giving it a maximum range of nearly 6,200 nm or 14 hours in the air with eight passengers.
With all those extra fuel tanks there isn’t much room in the baggage hold, so in 2005 Boeing began offering the BBJ2, with 25 percent more cabin volume, and an even bigger BBJ3, based on the 737-900ER, with 1,120 sq ft of cabin floor space. Compared to the original BBJ, the BBJ3 is 28 feet longer, has 35 percent more cabin volume and weighs nearly 17,000 pounds more.
Changes made to the original BBJ aircraft through the years include avionics upgrades, winglets and an upgraded pressurization system that lowers cabin altitude to 6,500 feet at the maximum cruising altitude of 41,000 feet.
While the backlog for twin-aisle BBJs is larger, demand remains for the 737-based BBJs and could even increase depending on when the aircraft becomes eligible for the new, more efficient Leap-X engines that Boeing will soon be fitting on the airliner versions, called the 737 Max.
The Leap-X builds on CFM56-5B/7B engines with new technologies developed under the Leap56 program. The new engines are expected to feature advanced technologies including a single-forged blisk fan, a twin annular pre-swirl combuster and increased used of composites. Variants are expected to product thrust in the 18,000- to 35,000-pound range and to be 16 percent more fuel efficient than the current CFM engines.
If there is a corresponding “BBJ Max” program, BBJ president Steve Taylor sees deliveries happening somewhere around 2017. Leap-X engines could increase a BBJ’s range by 6 to 10 percent, he says. Meanwhile, customers continue to gravitate to the BBJ for its large cabin; 11 feet, seven inches wide and seven feet, one inch tall. The space enables the installation of staterooms, full bathrooms with showers and large gourmet galleys.
While BBJ completions proceed fairly smoothly now, it wasn’t always so. Early ones were plagued with huge delays and cost overruns that flipped several completion centers financially upside down and frustrated aircraft owners. Over the years Boeing has worked the kinks out of the process via closer cooperation with the centers and better data sharing, and the centers developed considerable data and expertise in finishing the aircraft. Most completion centers now use digital design programs.
One BBJ completion house, Associated Air Center in Dallas, recently purchased a used 737 fuselage to use for fit checking interior components before the actual aircraft arrives for work. Associated estimates this will cut up to one month off the time required for interior installation. For Associated, this kind of expertise comes with experience. The company has delivered 21 completed 737 BBJs and has three more in work.
For completion centers working on the new 787 and 747 BBJs, the stakes are much higher. Boeing has worked hard with them leading up to initial aircraft deliveries that could begin late this year or early next. The completion tabs for these aircraft, especially those being prepared for heads of state, could easily top $70 million for the 787 and $200 million for the 747-8I. These aircraft offer an unprecedented amount of cabin space and range: the 747 will have a 4,786-sq-ft cabin, range of 9,260 nm with 100 passengers and a top speed of up to 614 mph; the 787 with have a 2,400-sq-ft cabin, carry 24 to 35 passengers and fly 9,590 nm nonstop. The 787-9 follow-on model will add 300 square feet of cabin floor space and fly 400 miles farther.