737 MAX may share NG improvements still to come, which might include more seats

Boeing’s 737 MAX, still weeks away from design configuration freeze and still with lots of detailed design to come, may share improvements still to come on the current 737 NG.

The head of the MAX program, Keith Leverkuhn, vice president and general manager, wouldn’t confirm or deny a report by Aspire Aviation that the MAX family will have 6-9 more seats through interior changes, the use of slim line seats and door changes when asked during Boeing’s MAX briefing yesterday with an international crowd of journalists.

Citing unidentified Boeing sources, Aspire reported:

  • Boeing to modify 737 MAX 8 doors to add around 9 seats;
  • 737 MAX 8 to meet 13% fuel burn reduction per seat target after door modification;
  • Door modification has negligible impact on MEW; and
  • 737 MAX 7 & MAX 9 also likely to have around 9 more seats.

Leverkuhn told the media that Boeing was satisfied with the current configuration of the airframe of the NG and MAX shares this configuration. Although Leverkuhn said Boeing had no intentions of changing, it still would talk with customers–leading to the obvious conclusion that Boeing wasn’t saying a firm “no” to the possibility.

We talked with him a few minutes alone later in which he clarified his earlier comments. Leverkuhn told us that while there will be no changes to the doors on the MAX which would allow more seats, the NG program is considering interior configurations that could lead to more seats and the MAX and NG programs closely follow developments and determine what can be shared between NG improvements still to come and the final MAX design.

Airbus in January announced a space-flex program that includes two new doors, enabling high density capacity to grow to 236 from 220. Airbus previously began offering a revised aft galley/lav combination in the A320 to permit three more seats, to 153 in two-classes. Boeing has been studying similar changes, according to our market intelligence.

The changes would be important in the everlasting economics-per-seat fight between the Big Two OEMs.

It was clear from our one-0n-one with Leverkuhn that the possibility of growing the seat count through adjusting the galley/lav (and use of slim line seats) is a distinct possibility for the NG and for MAX.

Other sound bites from his briefing:

  • Fuel burn improvement increased from 11% to 13% during development. There is pressure for even more as we learn more and more about the engine and more and more about the airplane from the wind tunnel.
  •  “Robust transcontinental range” get 400-500nm improvement over NG in each model class. 3,600nm for 8.
  • MAX matches the low speed 737NG performance.
  • Meet Chapter 14 noise requirement. (Supersedes Stage 5 name.)
  •  Claims MAX has a 19% economic advantage over A320 without sharklets.
  • We have a mini-iron bird, integrating systems and know quite a bit already.
  •  CFM has finished the E4 core, so good progress on Leap 1B.
  •  The engine really became our focus when we worked on this airplane. They bring GEnx technology in. We took a good hard look at GTF engine. We’re very happy with the selection we made and the assurance from CFM that we will get what we need for the customers.
  •  Digital bleed system vs analog bleed.
  •  We spent a lot of time working with CFM, PW and RR prior to selecting with CFM. Given our familiarity with GEnx, we have a lot of confidence with CFM to precisely tune the engine to the airplane and the airplane to the engine.
  • 69.4 inch fan diameter is tailored to the wing. Kept nacelle pretty close to current size, through sculpting of new titanium reverser.
  • Went from composite for the thrust reverser inner wall (because of high maintenance) to titanium for inner wall, unique in the commercial industry (some use in military). By eliminating the composite and the associated insulation blankets, the weight trade makes titanium slightly lighter and less maintenance intensive and costly.
  • Winglet reduces fuel burn more than an additional 1.5%- 1% at 500nm and over 1.5% over longer ranges, in a linear fashion. Provides natural laminar flow.
  • Firm configuration in July.
  •  Would not directly confirm or deny Aspire Aviation report on adding 6-9 seats. Says no change anticipated for the MAX configurations vs the NG or changes in the doors, but “we will continue to talk to the customers for what they need.”

22 Comments on “737 MAX may share NG improvements still to come, which might include more seats

  1. Thanks for the report!
    The B737-800NG seats 189 maximum. That is already a very nice gesture of the FAA, as the A320 with exactly the same door configuration is limited to 180 seats. Why? Because the Boeing is older. Does that make sense? No.

    The A321 gets overwing plug-type exits. These allow a theoretical exit capacity limit of 236, which is pretty difficult to squeeze into an A321. The primary intention is to allow airlines to de-activate the second door, and gain more flexibility in seating configuration.

    • “Why? Because the Boeing is older. Does that make sense? No.”

      Except for the name, what does the 737 from 50 years ago have in common with the 737 of today?

      Sooner or later, the certifying authourities are going to wake up and put a time limit (30 years?) on this grandfathering clause. This is just the case to prove how something implemented with good intentions can be twisted.

  2. So has Mr. Tsang’s “numerous sources” given him a bit too much information or is he making things up? I suppose other options are that he was used as a sounding board or as a diversion.

    If he has indeed “scooped” Boeing, it has to be pretty embarassing for them that they can’t keep the lid on such things. Want to bet they won’t be hunting for the leak?!

  3. Adding seat place is always a good thing. A two class operator able to seat 156 instead of 150 will be happy too.

    Boeing is fighting an uphill battle with the NEOs and have little to loose. Like the comments about the A350s, I wouldn’t expect them from an OEM that is confident.

    Inbetween the lines I see the LEAP needs full attention.

    – “There is pressure for even more as we learn more and more about the engine”
    Isn’t it good enough yet?

    – “CFM has finished the E4 core”
    They still have a long way to go.

    “MAX matches the low speed 737NG performance”
    – No enhancements for the -9 over the restricting -900ER airfield performance.

    “69.4 inch fan diameter is tailored to the wing”
    I guess restricted by the wing

    “We’re very happy with the selection we made and the assurance from CFM that we will get what we need for the customers.”
    Boeing is happy with what CFM promised them..

    • “There is pressure for even more as we learn more and more about the engine. Isn’t it good enough yet?” The answer is driven by the program unknowns, if the engine has the ability to offer even better performance why not leverage it? It is not to say that where they are currently is not good enough but more is always better. As with the NEO, MAX is driven by new engine technology. There is very little left in the airframe, a new winglet, weight tradeoffs, a slight change in other structures but the gains will be small when compared to the engine. As an example, if electronic engine controls can change fuel metering in various flight profiles and the engines can actually leverage those changes major benefits can be realized over and above what is known with airframe changes.

      “We’re very happy with the selection we made and the assurance from CFM..” I would say that is more driven by cfm being the current sole source engine supplier versus Airbus having a history of two engine suppliers on their program. The 737 program has been attached to the hip of cfm for many years and changing that at this point might be more trouble than it is worth to add a new supplier.

      Boeing has wanted to do a clean sheet for this segment for many years and many of the reasons have been well stated. Reality is, for both suppliers, the engines drive this magic trick. Once both flies we’ll know whether there was much of anything associated with the whole name change. Yes Airbus has come out of the gate with a better looking mouse trap but will any of it mean anything will take 5 years to really understand.

  4. Titanium on thrust reversers, irrelevant to the 737.

    A piece of titanium fell off a Continental DC 10 thrust reverser onto the runway at Paris Charles de Gaulle. An Air France Concorde ran over the piece of titanium, which cut its tires, and then exploded, tragically killing everyone on board, as well as several on the ground.

    • Breaking news: Major blow to aviation safety with the selection of titanium in the B737-MAX’s trust reversers….

  5. Boeing has done well tweaking and improving 37, all except the frame ; good to see that they are still doing it on Max and pretty well too -vs the NEO/GTF combination in terms of these updates. With some legacy driven weight advantage , Max seems to be in a better place today than a year earlier at its launch.

    • * Boeing to modify 737 MAX 8 doors to add around 9 seats;
      * 737 MAX 8 to meet 13% fuel burn reduction per seat target after door modification

      Anybody seeing the implications from 13% sfc gain per seat with 5% increase in seatcount?
      Doing the math I get ~8% sfc improvements from engine and aero improvements.
      That is about what initially was ceeded to be “achievable” improvements for the 737.

      • My thoughts. Either this improvement or the ones previously announced were incorrect.
        Leap enhancements for the MAX, NEO and Comac are required to keep it viable against the promising GTF

      • Maybe the new door has a winglet stuck on to it that gives them a 5% aerodynamic impovement without the seats. 🙂

  6. The constant carping does get a little old…
    Neither company is perfect, let’s face it.

    1. 380 business case and execution: poor
    2. 400m business case and execution: poor
    3. 340 business case: poor
    4. 350 business case: good, execution: fair
    5. 320 business case: excellent, execution: good
    6. 330 business case: excellent execution: excellent
    1. 747-8 business case: poor (?freighter) execution: poor
    2. 777 business case: excellent, execution good/excellent (hindsight)
    3. 767 business case: average, execution: good
    4. 737 business case: good, execution: good
    5. 787 business case: good, execution: poor

    In general, I would say Airbus needs better business case analysis (I volunteer Scott! :0))
    and Boeing needs better execution (although both need work there). Building modern airliners is hard to do!

    • I happen to think that the “VarioHoler” A340/A330 family was a rather brilliant decission
      that provided a very flexible an extremely “future proof” step up for Airbus ascendancy.
      ( Even the -500 and -600 had their place on this path IMHO).

      Then, products that get so much carefully crafted derission must have some redeeming potential. ( i.e. the A380 and A400M)

      But what do I know. I am nothing but a dumb fanboi 😉

  7. In the interests of fairness, perhaps it should be pointed out that neither the 757-300 or the 767-400 did a great deal of good for Boeing’s finances either. As for the A400M, most of the problems with it lay not with the aircraft but its engines, which were foisted on it.

    • Problems with the A400M run much much deeper than the engines. It’s horribly overweight, it doesn’t have several the functionalities that were originally promised and contracted for. Not to mention it’s somewhat more capable than a C-130, but costs as much as a C-17. It’s so bad that the customers have cancelled as many as they could, until Airbus threatened to just drop the whole thing. Now customers are “re-marketing” their units, which will compete directly with Airbus for foreign sales. Both Germany and Spain, core Airbus countries will do this. That means about 30 FEWER Airbus sales. So, no “most” of the problems weren’t the engine. SOME were the engine, some were Airbus’ fault, some were avionics suppliers fault. Overall, an F for execution.

      • This is typical of “command economy” types of decisions wherein very narrow requirements are allowed to dictate aircraft design. A400M should never have seen the light of day. Never enough aircraft sales to justify launch. It looks like a similar good but failed aircraft, the Franco-German C160 Transall.

      • You aren’t a very happy person, are you?
        Do you happen to work in a post office?

  8. “MAX matches the low speed 737NG performance.”

    Will be interesting to see how that is is going to be done, given that the -9MAX has a 7000 lbs
    higher MTOW than the B737-900ER, with same thrust apparently.

  9. Pingback: Leahy skeptical of Boeing plan to add 737 seats, vows to maintain 60% share of neo-MAX sector | Leeham News and Comment