BBJ Goes To The MAX

 - October 29, 2012, 2:00 PM

Boeing Business Jets (BBJ), yesterday, announced plans to build the BBJ MAX, the VIP version of Boeing’s 737 MAX commercial jet and next iteration of BBJ’s executive airliners. The MAX brings the BBJ into the Leap era, using the same CFM International Leap 1-B engines and winglets as on the 737 MAX, which provide a range increase of more than 14 percent, according to Boeing.

Paralleling the commercial program, the first BBJ MAX model will be based on the BBJ2/737-800 (737 MAX 8) airframe (129 feet, 6 inches long). Dubbed the BBJ MAX 8, expected range is 6,325 nm, sufficient to link Los Angeles-Moscow and London-Hong Kong. First BBJ MAX 8 deliveries are expected in the 2017 to 2018 time frame, following scheduled inaugural 737 MAX 8 deliveries in 2017.

“For VIP customers, extended range and exceptional comfort are equally important,” said Steve Taylor, president of Seattle-based BBJ. “The BBJ MAX will ensure our customers get the best of both.”

Cost of the BBJ MAX 8 hasn’t been set, and Boeing doesn’t expect the introduction to result in any immediate sales–or postponed deliveries. “For the most part, VIP customers don’t buy that far ahead,” said Taylor. “It’s just really unusual to be talking to a customer five years out. [And] as of today we don’t expect a lot of people in the backlog to say, ‘Wait, I want to get a BBJ MAX.’ Where this airplane is going to sell is with [BBJ] owners who want to step up to a more efficient range capability.”

Production of a BBJ MAX 9 (today’s BBJ3: 138–foot, 2-inch length, 6,255-nm range) based on the 737 MAX 9 will follow the BBJ MAX 8. Plans for a BBJ MAX 7 (today’s BBJ: 110–foot, 2-two inch length) based on the 737 MAX 7 are under study.

The CFM Leap engines provide a 13-percent reduction in fuel use over the BBJ’s current CFM56-7 turbines and the winglets bring an additional 1.5 percent savings, according to Boeing. GE Aviation, which owns CFM International in a 50/50 joint venture partnership with Snecma, is also a 25-percent partner in Boeing Business Jets.

With the 737-800 airframe blazing the MAX trail, Taylor foresees no major challenges in the BBJ MAX program. Unfortunately for current BBJ owners, design changes in the wings required for the re-engining seem to rule out retrofits. No enhancements other than new engines and winglets are currently planned for the MAX bizjet. All BBJs are delivered green with custom interiors installed at completion centers.

BBJs already enjoy a range advantage over competing Airbus Corporate Jets (ACJ) and the MAX upgrade will expand that gap, according to Boeing. Taylor points to the BBJ’s 6,500-foot cabin altitude and low ground stance, which eases getting people and things on and off BBJs, as other key differentiators. Airbus, which unveiled its A320neo airliner engine upgrade program a year before Boeing unveiled its MAX commercial airliners, has not yet announced plans to offer an ACJneo equivalent.

Taylor himself demonstrated the range and capability of current BBJs in September when he captained a green BBJ from Los Angeles nonstop to its completion center in Auckland, New Zealand, setting a world record for “speed over a recognized course,” a flight of 5,658 nm in 13 hours, 7 minutes and 54 seconds.

BBJ (Booth No. 1499) remains on track to deliver 12 aircraft this year and has an equal number coming out of completion. “I’ve got a sign up: ‘12 and 12 in ’12,’” said Taylor. “The team is really busy.” Nonetheless, Taylor described the “flavor of the market” as “very challenging,” saying, “We sold one airplane at EBACE, to a Chinese customer, but boy, every sale is hard-earned.”

Regular NBAA attendees may note BBJ has reduced its presence in the convention hall this year. “We decided to put more [emphasis] on the static [display] and less on the convention floor,” said Taylor. “It’s just a gut instinct to try something different. So we have a little smaller display in the exhibit hall than in past years, but a larger exhibit at the airport. I’m curious to see how people respond to that, if that’s the right way to go.” The company has on static display at Orlando Executive Airport a 1998 BBJ represented by Freestream Aircraft that Taylor said “hasn’t been shown in the states before..

“The reason we really love [the NBAA convention] is that so many of our current customers come here,” said Taylor. BBJ hosts an annual event for all its current operators at the convention, which Taylor described as “extremely valuable” for cementing connections that often lead to future sales. o