737 MAX ‘commitments’ and what these mean

Note: As a follow up to our previous post about the 787 break-even, Blog by Javier added a third post to simplify his very detailed analysis. You may jump to the link here.

Also: AirInsight has this commentary on the MAX.

Boeing today (Nov. 3) announced it now has more than 600 commitments for the 737 MAX, as well as confirming the 68 inch fan selection and discussed some other issues related to MAX.

Our immediately preceding post synopsized Jim Albaugh’s presentation to Goldman Sachs. Shortly after this, Boeing offered up to the media a tele-press conference with John Hamilton, 737 chief program engineer, to update the status.

One of the things he also referred to was the 600+ commitments by eight airlines for the MAX. Based on questions from the media, focusing on when “commitments” become “orders,” we thought it might be useful for the Reader to discuss this.

Basically, what Boeing has are Memorandums of Understanding for the airplane. The eight airlines, and potential customers, agree to execute a purchase contract (firm order) when Boeing is ready to offer definitive specifications and guarantees for the airplanes. John Hamilton (who is no relation to us, in case anyone wondered) alluded to this on the media call. He essentially said he doesn’t expect any of the commitments to be converted to firm orders any time soon.

In fact, the final design specifications won’t be ready until 2013, Boeing announced today, with first flight in 2016 and (as previously announced) EIS in 2017. As before, Albaugh and now Hamilton said they hope to move the timeline “to the left.”

Who are the customers that have MOUs? American Airlines is the only announced customer. We understand GOL, COPA and Norwegian Air are the other three of the original five customers. We understand the fifth is a small carrier with a small number of commitments. We haven’t yet snooped around about the three additional ones announced today.

Notably, lessor GECAS is not yet among the commitments, we understand, which seems odd to us at this stage of the game given that the engine is from sister company CFM International. (It should be noted that GECAS never ordered the 787, despite having the GEnx engine.) None of the lessors has yet signed an MOU, as far as we know. Several lessors have placed orders for the Airbus NEO family.

Several news outlets have already posted reports from the conference. A search of Google News will bring these to the front. We won’t repeat what’s already been written elsewhere.

An important element of the MAX briefing lies in the ambiguity surrounding the LEAP-1B engine. Although Albaugh and Hamilton confirmed what we reported weeks ago–that the 68 inch fan has been selected–we knew from our own information that the MAX in its current iteration is 2-3 percentage points in fuel burn savings less than advertised by Boeing to-date. (In fact, we had specific questions about this into Boeing Corporate Communications since Monday.) This is why Boeing revealed publicly for the first time that it has asked CFM to customize the engine core–it is an effort to recapture some of this shortfall.

Boeing’s Hamilton also revealed that the decision has been made to increase the length of the nose gear. While the most commonly reported extension is 6-8 inches, Hamilton said this is not yet set. He did say that an extension is not necessary, but doing so provides more optimization.

What we heard several weeks ago is that this extension permits CFM and Boeing to grow the engine to 71 inches from 68 inches is unable to provide the efficiency advertised. The 71-inch fan would provide another 1.5% fuel efficiency before the trades associated with the larger diameter, weight and other factors. The heavier engine would also likely mean greater structural modifications, which Boeing endeavors to minimize.

Boeing’s Hamilton was asked about the core customization and he didn’t provide any detail, rather sticking with “we’re-studying-this-with-CFM.” The fact is that at this point, the customized core is in R&D, and by definition detail is unavailable.

It must be emphasized that today’s advertised 11%-12% improvement in efficiency (up from 10%-12% announced in August) includes airframe improvements. But as with any design, engines are the driver and the airframe–particularly an older design like the 737–can only get you so far.

We asked CFM about the 2-3 percentage point difference in fuel efficiency.

“The LEAP-1B absolutely met the specifications when we signed the MOU back in March,” a CFM spokes-person wrote in an email. “You have to remember, though, that this program is still in the early stages of development and requirements will continue to evolve until design freeze.  That why Boeing and CFM are working so closely together.”

We also asked about commonality of a customized core with other LEAP models.

“Commonality has a lot of advantages from a manufacturing standpoint for us and from a spare parts provisioning standpoint for airlines with mixed fleets, but we would never penalize one engine application over another to achieve that commonality.  Again, we optimize the engine technology for each application,” CFM wrote.

Finally, the push to develop and optimized core won’t set the timeline of the program back, CFM wrote.

“Our schedule is in lock-step with Boeing.”

15 Comments on “737 MAX ‘commitments’ and what these mean

  1. Boeing: Nose gear extension is not necessary, but doing so provides more optimization.

    Translation: Yep, we are going through the cost of a nose gear extension for the fun of it, not. It is necessary to lengthen the nose gear to “optimize” performance as we couldn’t get close to the NEO with a 66″ fan, actually we still can’t get close with a 68″ fan but hanging a 71″ fan off of an NG is going to get us into a whole world of hurt with structural strengthening so we have gone back to GE to persuade them to build us a custom core to try and claw back some of the fuel burn improvements that we have overpromised to the market but that the market does not believe we can deliver.

    • I read somewhere that you can place the engine so it rides higher on the wing but there is a aerodynamic cost in doing so. In other words in raising the height of the placement you lose some of the benefit of having a bigger fan. An extended nose gear would presumably allow a lower and more efficient placement.

  2. I wonder if any additional protection is going to be required against over-rotation with an extended nosewheel? Referring specifically to the MAX9

    • The rotation should be the same on you start out in a slightly raised attitude.

      For the -900:
      Every 3 inches of raising the front gear will give you 1 inch of raising the engine front
      and + 0.5 degree of attitude change.
      i.e. raising the front gear for lifting something just in front of the main gear is rather uneffective.
      Issue may be how to reduce lift during the take off run.

  3. Good question, Andrew. It would be anyone’s guess at this point as to how Boeing will address that, but there are several solutions airplane OEMs have used in the past including a double rotation profile, or software changes.

    My question would be if CFMI does build a custom core for the LEAP-1B engine for Boeing, and it proves to meet the SFC specs. will Airbus want to have some, or all of the core changes added into future LEAP-1A engines for them?

    • Airbus shouldn’t need a custom core. They run a much bigger engine (78in for LeapX and 81in for GTF) that won’t run as hot as the small engines that would be fit under the Max.

  4. I’m confused on some of this stuff. The B757 is about the same diameter (body wise) as the B737-900 and has a larger much more powerful engine. Yet, the B757 was stop from production because the B737-900, with its little bitty engine was more economical to run on the same trip. So, its engine everything? I though that weight and aerodynamics play just an important a role. I wish people would stop talking just about fan diameter. I would think that the people at Bombardier are scrambling right now to fit the much larger fan diameter Leap X schedule to be fit on the A320 NEO. It would just blow every contender of the market.

    • And it takes on one third more fuel for not really that much more range.
      In all structure aspects a beefier plane.

      Boeing with the NG was hell bent on staying with the formfactor and
      certification of the original “city jet”. Just equal that eurotrash A320
      shortterm and it will go away again.

      For a given airframe ( either Airbus and Boeing ) engine efficiencies
      _do turn_ around bypassration and pressureratio.
      The current NG looses on BPR and compensates via PR, frontal area and
      to a lesser degree weight.
      The same will be valid for the coming MAX ( versus the NEO )

      Just as simple as that. 😉

    • One reason the 757 production stopped (aside from no orders after 9/11) was its production system in Renton was essentially the same as when it was launched–i.e., not automated, not leaned out. Thus the cost to produce it had become too expensive.

      • Did the 757 get any ( significant or less so ) technical updates over its lifetime?

  5. The B757 doesn’t even have FADEC-engines. I think Boeing didn’t lean the production, but completely leaned away the engineering (while engines are of course not Boeing’s concern). The diminishing position of the B757 was probably known to Boeing since Airbus offered its first A321 …

    • Really… where do you get your info?

      “A dual spool, axial air flow, annular combustion, high by-pass, turbo fan, dual channel FADEC computer controlled turbine engine.
      The first PW2000 series engine, the PW2037, powered the Boeing 757-200 and entered service with Delta Air Lines as the civil aviation launch customer for the new engine type.
      In 1984, Pratt and Whitney was the first engine designer to certify a Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) system available for civil aviation use.[2] Operating with two independent channels for control and redundancy, the new FADEC system not only made it easier for flight crews to manage engine control, but also made the engine much more efficient.”

      I wonder about this website????

  6. Observer, there is really nothing to wonder about. Schorsch, Uwe and several other Airbus fan boys use the web site as a propaganda outlet to spew faux engineering evaluations as well as plain BS about any Boeing aircraft product. The favor goes in the reverse direction on occasion when something negative happens to Airbus i.e. The Quantas A-380 that lunched one of its engines over the south Pacific or the Air France tragedy over the south Atlantic. All in all it is pretty juvenile and most of what is provided you can’t believe, as you noted about the B757 not having FADEC engine controls.

  7. Pingback: More on MAX: Aspire Aviation does long analysis « Leeham News and Comment

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