American is the launch customer for 737RE–but not the launch operator

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.

9 Comments on “American is the launch customer for 737RE–but not the launch operator

  1. ” .. 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.”

    Would that be “Completely to up to date standards” ?

    If yes, I assume it will be a hurtfull experience for Boeing.

    Getting out the popcorn and a cask of beer 😉

  2. I wish , Boeing is able to put the engines of B737RE at the top of the wings, hence it will make use of the whole engine output without any trimming

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  4. I still believe that the 737 RE is far from certain and the fact that AA does not want to be the launch operator lends further credence to the possiblity that AA has some sort of “free bailout” clause in their contact with Boeing. After all, who bets the future of the company on a concept (we are going to put new engines on the 737 but we do not know what size and hence what performance and noise penalty there will be with respect to the original engine design)? Does this make sense?

    Speaking of noise, there could be another issue for Boeing and the potential customers of the 737 RE. How much louder would the reduced diameter LEAP-X be than the full sized version? How would that compare to the engines on current single aisles as well as the GTF?

    I think all that Boeing has managed to do with AA is buy itself some time. Soon we will see their legendary rabbit out of a hat trick. Or will it be grubs?

    • Seems to be pretty open how Boeing wrangled their way into this purchase
      in a last minute decission.( probably no armtwisting via diplomatic corps/State
      Department here, but .. 😉

  5. Another point. I do think Boeing will be best served by keeping any new engine variant as common as possible with its predecessor. A redesigned cockpit is not going to be that straightforward and would also be an invitiation for the FAA to take a much closer look at the “new” bird.

    How much more can they realistically tweak ouf of the engines and wings? The thing is about 50 years old and has already had one major redesign.

  6. “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.”

    Nicole won’t love you for noticing 😉 she must be busy rewriting 737 / NSA history as we speak

  7. Early EIS operators are gold dust for manufacturers, the commercial operator path is littered with those that have made hasty decisions only to have subsequently fallen by the wayside, Lufthansa has the ability to survive it’s pending Boeing VLA purchase whilst others can’t afford to take the risk

    Boeings PR machine presents more questions than answers.

    • Lufthansa Technik is instrumental for the leeway LH has regarding fleet composition decissions.
      They try to have the right “granularity” for their fleet. i.e. being eable to
      step up / step down capacity dispatched on their routes in fine enough
      steps to achieve good utilisation. They seem to be doing alright in that respect.
      In case of the 747-8i the purchase seems to have got additional boost by a
      very good price as compensation for that canceled Boeing connectivity project.
      It is probably certain that the 8i wont perform worse than its elder sisters.

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