Here’s the last of three stories on the Boeing 737, the A320neo and the new Boeing airplane.
|Commercial Aviation Online
Airbus’ decision to advance by six months the entry-into-service (EIS) of the A320neo puts more pressure on Boeing to decide what to do with the new airplane in the 737/757 class.
Airbus now plans to have an October 2015 EIS for the A320neo. Although the change in the A320neo timeline is only half a year, this means Airbus theoretically has a new, fuel efficient airplane available four or five years ahead of what Boeing is currently talking about.
The timeline on the A321neo, touted by Airbus as a replacement for the Boeing 757, remains unchanged for roughly the fourth quarter of 2016. The A319neo leapfrogs the A321neo from spring 2017 to spring 2016, six months after the A320neo. The A319 and A320 share a common wing and the A321 wing is slightly different and requires more engineering to accommodate the NEO.
Airbus COO-Customers John Leahy still believes Boeing will cave and proceed with a re-engining programme for the 737. Boeing officials remain adamant, at least publicly, that the business case for the 737RE isn’t compelling enough to proceed-that all-in including ownership costs and maintenance offsets for another engine type, parts and greater wear-and-tear for landing gear (a heavier airplane), the net cash operating cost benefit only is 1%. (Sharply increased oil prices may alter this number.)
But proceeding with a new airplane, which Boeing officials say they prefer, is anything but certain. While Boeing’s Mike Bair, head of the 737 future programme, and Jim Albaugh, CEO of Boeing Commercial Aircraft, each say they believe there are technologies that will be available by the end of this decade to put into a new airplane, the new engines offered by CFM, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce currently promise at best about 20% reduced fuel burn compared with today’s engines. CFM and PW promote their LEAP-X and Geared Turbo Fan engines as 15% and 16% better; improvements of about 1% per year gets to the 20% by 2019-2020, when Albaugh and Bair talk about EIS for its new aircraft; Jim McNerney, CEO of The Boeing Co., was less certain. During the year-end earnings call, he talked about an EIS late this decade or early next decade.
The definition of Boeing’s new airplane also remains, at this date, uncertain. There have been discussions of 150-210 seats or 180-220 seats, one aisle or two, composite airplane or a combination of composite and aluminum lithium.
The fuselage skin fatigue failure 1 April of a Southwest Airlines 737-300 at 40,000 cycles-just two thirds of the way to where Boeing computed specialized inspections would be required to detect potential skin cracks-may move Boeing toward an all-composite airplane and a larger one, where composite scalability is less of an issue in downsizing from the 787.
An all-composite airplane in the 737/757 class will present a major challenge for manufacturing at the rates already being discussed: 60 per month, and this doesn’t include any Airbus response. The aerospace industry today doesn’t have this capacity.
Clarity from Boeing is widely expected to come before or at the Paris Air Show.