No one can know precisely what future technology will find its way onto a new airplane that might not appear in service until a decade from now, but Boeing vice president of product development Mike Sinnett seems to have a clear idea of what developmental “levers” the company might pull in its efforts to fill the market space between the 737 Max 9 and the 787-8. During a Paris Air Show briefing on Monday, Sinnett named fuel economy, maintenance costs and training costs as the top considerations.
“Fuel burn reduction is really important to us, and it always has been,” he said. “If you look at where we are today, we burn 70-percent less fuel than we did with our first-generation jet aircraft. The 737 has improved fuel burn by something like 1.4 percent per year for the last 40 years. So that’s a natural thing and that will go on forever.”
Meanwhile, said Sinnett, maintenance costs have become more important as airplane “functionality” improves and new systems work harder to burn less fuel due to their complexity. Technology enabling the diagnosis of the mechanical health of an airplane while airborne to help maintenance teams move parts before it lands show particular promise in the effort to lower those costs, he added. In terms of training costs, the most effective means to lower costs will likely continue to lie with systems and cockpit commonality between aircraft types.
“So much of the cost of the pilot has nothing to do with him flying the airplane on the day he flies it,” said Sinnett. “It’s in all the training that gets him capable of flying the airplane. Moving pilots from one airplane to another is a significant expense. The 787 and the 777 have a common type rating. We were told that would be impossible and we took it on as a challenge.”