American Airlines is the launch customer for the Boeing 737 re-engine, but it’s not the launch operator.
As American’s 10Q SEC filing revealed the day the order was announced, AA won’t take delivery of the first 737RE until 2018. EIS is planned for 2016 or 2017.
We asked American about this. Sean Collins, director of financial communications for the airline, confirmed American doesn’t want to be the first operator of the aircraft.’
“We don’t like to be the first in line for a new airplane,” he said. “There is a learning curve to be worked out. We like to let that process work its way out. That’s the approach we’ve taken.”
American’s status as the launch customer but not the launch operator is somewhat ironic. Bombardier came under a great deal of criticism for having launch customers but not launch operators for its CSeries (a point rectified at the Paris Air Show, with an unidentified network carrier placing an order to become the launch operator). In fact, Boeing’s Nicole Piasecki, VP of Business Development and Strategic Integration, made the same criticism toward BBD in Boeing’s pre-Paris Air Show press briefing.
While BBD’s critics point to the facts that the CSeries is an entirely new airplane, using new materials, production techniques and suppliers, the 737RE is intended to be a reasonable straight-forward derivative of a well-established airplane. That American is sufficiently wary of being the launch operator is a statement of some kind.
We’ll leave it to analysts and observers to make their own interpretations.
But American’s decision leaves Boeing in the position of being able to offer initial delivery slots to Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines. Southwest launched 737 derivatives -300, -500 and -700 and has been agitating for two years or more for Boeing to upgrade the 737 or, preferably, proceed with a new airplane. Delta is currently deciding on the 757 replacement, evaluating the 737-900ER and the A321neo. A re-engined -900ER should change the dynamics of this competition a bit.
What did American Airlines order?
This is a very good question. It apparently will be at least four to six weeks before Boeing’s Product Development group completes its analyses, most notably about the engine size and the knock-on effects to the rest of the airplane.
The carrier has ordered a concept. Boeing hasn’t even decided what size engine will be on the airplane, and it doesn’t know what the Federal Aviation Administration is going to require in terms of systems upgrades or even if a full recertification of the airplane will be needed. (At least as of two weeks ago the latter was the case.)
Will Boeing put a larger fan-diameter engine on the airplane, requiring landing gear changes? Or a smaller diameter engine that will be less fuel efficient and noisier in order to avoid gear changes, leading to a reduced “work statement” and 10%-20% lower R&D funding requirements?
How much of the airplane will be different than the current 737NG, which was around 80% different than the 737 Classic it replaced? Best information right now is that the 737RE will be less than 50% different than the NG, but how much less depends on the engine selected.
(The Airbus A320neo family is promoted at being 95% common to the current family.)
Aeroturbopower was quick off the mark to do a back-of-the-envelope analysis of fuel burn of the larger and smaller diameter LEAP engines that are the options to power the RE.
Daniel Tsang of Hong Kong’s Aspire Aviation, says that “a new cockpit with 787-styled large liquid crystal display (LCD) panels and class-3 electronic flight bag (EFB) which will be compatible with the required navigation performance (RNP) and automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS-B) is being seriously considered. Furthermore, a slight modification in the 737′s airframe coupled with a slight modification in the 737′s wing designs could potentially enable the reengined 737 to match the A320neo’s 15% fuel burn saving.”
Jon Ostrower wrote this piece some time back about “requirements creep” and the need to avoid it. And we’ve written several pieces about some of the elements being considered for the RE.
As soon as the American order was announced, we posed a series of questions to Boeing, asking, in effect, What is this airplane? The response: We’ll get back to you.
The decision by Boeing to launch the 737RE raises as many questions as it answers.