By Bjorn Fehrm
2 February 2016, ©. Leeham Co: The Boeing 737 MAX flew for the first time Friday. On Saturday it was in the air again. Boeing has communicated they will deliver the first aircraft to Southwest next year in the third quarter. We doubt it.
It will be earlier, barring a major problem cropping up (and the chances are good there will be none).
Delivery of aircraft projects ahead of time is almost unheard of. And when it is Boeing that looks like being early, people start to think about the Dreamliner debacle. It was over three years late.
We would say: absolutely be skeptical, but in this case, there is reason for optimism.
The Boeing of today is a different Boeing than it was 2003 when the critical decisions were taken around the Dreamliner. At the time, Boeing was the reliable, the one who kept the promises they made. It was the dominating force, even though Airbus had eaten into its lead for too long. It was confident, too confident.
Consequently Boeing decided to take a major step forward with the 787 Dreamliner. And not only in technology but on all fronts. On how to build the aircraft; how to produce the aircraft and how to work with partners. It was just too much change. Way too much.
Product management courses teach: if you change the way you go about a project, change ONE aspect and keep the rest constant. Boeing changed just about everything. The result was predictable.
Consequently Boeing gradually lost all the carefully built up credibility. Especially as the Dreamliner was not alone in performance misses and time slips. The 747-8 was equally hit. The years 2008 to 2011 were no easy years for Boeing. Time for change.
Boeing decided there was only one way back: Under-promise and Over-deliver.
We shall see the 737 MAX program in this light. As shall we see with the 787-10 and 777X. Boeing has strengthened its program management and gathered all development activities under one management, led by Senior Vice President Scott Fancher.
For years, the constant message around Boeing’s Civil aircraft projects is that they progress to plan. So for the 737 MAX when it flew Friday, Boeing has at long last seemed to return to the good days of promises made, promises kept. It was communicated that the flight testing would finish in 2016. This is also realistic.
The MAX 8, which is the first aircraft to be certified in the MAX series, has a bit more on its plate than the competing Airbus 320neo. But it only have one engine to test, the CFM LEAP-1B.
In addition, a cleaned up glass cockpit shall be verified as shall Fly-By-Wire spoilers. The new split wingtips and the cleaned up tailcone will be checked as well. But these are low risk changes, as is the electronic control of the conventional bleed based air condition.
One consequently wonders what Boeing shall do between end of 2016 and third quarter 2017. Certification paperwork and preparation for first delivery only takes 2-4 months after finishing flight tests, absent any unknown problems.
The single biggest risk of the program is the engine, the LEAP-1B. But it has two larger variants, LEAP-1A and 1C running ahead of it. Of these, the LEAP-1A is in the midst of flight test on Airbus A320neo and there are no sign of testing issues to date.
We foresee a delivery to Southwest in second quarter 2017 if things progress with the normal level of issues. This would then be one quarter earlier than communicated, it could be two. Under-promise and Over-deliver.