Boeing refreshes 737

Here are our stories from Commercial Aviation Online about the Boeing 737 refresh.

The stories speak for themselves, and one of them gives the reaction of Southwest Airlines, Boeing’s biggest 737 customer.

Our personal observations: the new interior, with 787 features, is a major improvement over those in today’s 737s (and Airbus A320s) from a passenger perspective. Boeing wasn’t able to increase passenger shoulder width comfort because the fuselage width is what it is, but there is more headroom space with the redesigned bins and the lighting is much more pleasant.

The 737’s aerodynamics were pretty clean to begin with, so getting a 1% airframe gain in fuel burn was probably about as good as could be expected. CFM likewise has a pretty efficient CFM 56, so another 1% was probably as good as it gets, too.

This illustrates the challenges Boeing has in tweaking the 737 without a re-engining before going to an all-new airplane. Airbus is hoping for up to 5% fuel burn improvements for the A320 Enhancements, but Boeing told us some time ago these would only at best match the 737 and not better it (Airbus probably would take a different view).

Anyway, here are the stories we did for CAO.

737 shaves 2% fuel burn

Boeing yesterday announced a package performance improvement system that reduces fuel consumption by 2%.

Also announced is the inclusion of Required Navigation Performance (RNP) as standard, providing operators with the ability to fly more direct routes, reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions, said John Hamilton, 737 Chief Project Engineer. RNP has been an offered feature since 2003 and had been ordered by 80% of the customers.

Hamilton said: “it’s the little things that sometimes make a big difference for our customers.” Reduced drag and fuel improvements will be introduced by mid 2011. One percent will be gained by drag improvements, including wing controls, anti-collision lights, wheel well fairings, exhaust outlets and engine propulsion improvements. All-in, this represents a 16% gain over the 737 Classics since its introduction in 1984. The aerodynamic improvements provide a 1% operating efficiency gain over current 737NGs.

CFM International announced the CFM-56-7B Evolution program to improve fuel burn by 1%. This includes reducing parts (with a resulting lower maintenance cost gain of up to 4%), changes in aerodynamic designs of the engine cone and cowling and air flow improvements. Under certain circumstances, the Evolution may be retrofitted to earlier -7B models. Noise levels are expected to remain constant with today’s -7B.

The Evolution enters ground testing in September, flight testing on GE’s Boeing 747 in February and 737 flight testing in October 2010. Engine certification is planned for 2Q11 and the 737E EIS is scheduled for mid-2011.

Boeing’s Hamilton said that Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbo Fan will not be considered for the 737. Boeing has a solid relationship with CFM, Hamilton told CAO, and if PW were to put the GTF on the Airbus A320, then Boeing would turn to CFM for a response. CAO was told by a source familiar with the relationship that CFM has an exclusive supplier contract that would make putting the GTF on the 737 in contractual conflict with CFM.

Hamilton said that the 2% operating gain is based on the 737’s average 1,000nm stage length and will be applicable across all family members.

Boeing also introduced the Boeing Sky Interior, which includes design features originating with the 787. FlyDubai, Continental, Norwegian, Malaysian, TUI, GOL and Lion Air are the launch customers for this. The new interior is weight-neutral but provides benefits in lower maintenance, as well as the passenger benefits.

The new production and interior features will add about $2m to the list prices, CAO is told. But Hamilton characterized this figure as vastly overstated. The technical improvements will be phased into production completely by mid-2011. The Sky Interior will be an option for current 737 customers who may or may not want to have two sets of interiors in the fleet. The cost is substantially below the $2m figure, Hamilton said. The interior will be standard for new 737 customers.

Kent Craver, Boeing’s regional director for Passenger Satisfaction, said retrofitting is technically possible but not feasible because, he said, it is too costly.

Doug Kelly, of the appraisal firm Avitas, doesn’t think the enhancements will have much affect on values.

“The real question is what will airlines pay for these features. My guess is a lot less than $2 million. I don’t think these enhancements will have a material effect on the 737NG, which enjoys a broad operator base of over 100 operators and 2,500 aircraft in service,” Kelly told CAO.

“Boeing and Airbus will continue to be pressured by their customers to make improvements in the current product until they come out with an all new narrowbody, which probably won’t happen until after 2018.”

Fred Klein of Aviation Specialists Group declined to make a prediction on the affect on values until details are provided appraisers.

Boeing Capital Corp, which tracks values closely of its own products and those of Airbus, told CAO, “Our experience is that model improvements are reflected in aircraft values. As an example, winglet equipped 737s are valued higher than those without them and that carries over for longer term customers as a higher residual value. Aircraft without such improvements are not degraded in value; instead they are valued for what they offer and we don’t expect those values to change based on the improvements coming along.”

The 737 remains the Next Generation and does not adopt an “Enhanced” nomenclature.

Southwest disappointed in 737E

Southwest Airlines, which has ordered more 737s than any other customer since 1971, is disappointed in the 737 Enhancements announced by Boeing yesterday.

Southwest, along with Continental Airlines, urged Boeing to develop a new airplane in the 737 class using 787 technology. But Boeing says a 737 replacement is unlikely until 2018-2020, with some industry observers thinking it could be even later. Based on this timetable, Southwest last year urged Boeing to develop an enhanced 737 with a new engine to produce at least 10%-15% fuel efficiency gains. The first engine available is the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) being developed for the 70-149 seat Mitsubishi MRJ and Bombardier CS300 classes. A larger version of the GTF would be required for the 737 class. CFM International is developing the LEAP-X with an engine certification target date of 2016, but the company says this is intended for a new airframe and not retrofitting on the 737 or Airbus A320.

Boeing’s enhanced 737 incorporates minor aerodynamic and engine improvements that produce a 2% improvement in fuel burn on a 1,000nm segment. The engine improvements are projected to reduce maintenance costs by up to 4%. The new interior reduces maintenance costs but, while far more attractive to passengers than the current NG interiors, conflicts with Southwest’s obsession with standardization.

Mike van de Ven, EVP and chief operating officer of Southwest, provided this reaction to CAO:

“We of course would be appreciative of any enhancements that improve our operating economics.

“We are all aware of the substantial challenges facing our industry today. A combination of a deep recession, high fuel prices, an outdated ATC system, and potentially growing interest in some type of carbon emissions tax, are materially impacting the economics of air travel. We need an air transportation system that is more climate friendly, improves fuel efficiency, and reduces greenhouse gases, and we need an aircraft that is more economical in this environment. Southwest has already taken many steps in addressing the need for more environmentally focused efforts, including: winglets on our -700 and -300 series Boeing 737s; optimizing our flight profiles for better fuel burn; engine washing for greater power efficiency; gate services alternative power to save fuel burn and emissions while on the ground; and exploration of RNP capabilities. While these actions have been beneficial, they need to be supplemented with more game-changing innovation in terms of aircraft design.

“That type of innovation will require active participation with partners–specifically our engine and airframe manufacturers–to achieve technology breakthrough that improves aircraft economics in at least the 20% range. That is imperative for our industry, particularly in the current economic environment. Without an accelerated timeline to do so, it is going to be extremely difficult to maintain the current levels of services that the public has come to rely upon. For those of us that fly narrow-body aircraft, we simply cannot sit and wait another 10-15 years for these types of improvements without some real near-term interim steps in that direction. If re-engining the existing airframe is a viable option that can be accomplished on a much quicker time-line, that is something that should at least be considered.”

Boeing made it clear with the announcements that re-engining the 737 is something that will only seriously be considered if Airbus re-engines the A320.

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