March 10, 2011
Boeing is still leaning toward building a new version of its narrow-body 737, but other questions remain such as what materials would be used, its size, and where the plane would be built, a Boeing executive said on Thursday.
"There's a long laundry list of things we have to understand in potential trades we can make," Mike Bair, Boeing's head of single-aisle development programmes said.
"We're not interested in what the market needs today. We have to understand what the market needs in 2030," he said.
The company is deciding whether to rebuild its 737 or simply put new fuel-efficient engines on the existing model.
A re-engined plane would offer fuel savings of about 10 percent and could be brought to market around 2016. A new plane could offer double the fuel savings and be brought to market around 2019.
Airbus rolled the dice last year on a re-engined version of its competing A320. The company has pulled in impressive orders for the revamped model known as the A320neo.
The market is worth an estimated USD$1.7 trillion over the next 20 years.
Bair said there is a risk of losing orders to Airbus while Boeing charts its course, but he said the company must consider all the data as well as customer preferences.
Aircraft leasing company International Lease Finance this week ordered 100 planes from the A320neo family.
Airbus sales chief John Leahy quickly boasted huge support for the A320neo and said Airbus was in talks to sell more of the planes to Republic Airways.
Boeing has said a new 737 would soon render the A320 obsolete, and ILFC has not ruled out ordering redesigned or re-engined 737s.
"We don't let what our competitors do drive a lot of what we do," Bair said.
He said Boeing also is deciding whether to follow the example of its 787 Dreamliner, which features light-weight carbon-composite materials to help make the plane more fuel efficient.
"Our leaning is to try to take advantage of everything we've learned on the 787, because this would be our second generation composite airplane," Bair said.
He said the choice of materials -- carbon composites, metal, or a hybrid of the two -- would help determine where the next 737 would be built. The current assembly line is near Seattle.
Boeing and its Washington-based workers, however, are at odds over Boeing's strategy to use an extensive global supply chain and outsourced labour to build much of its 787. The first assembly line for the 787 is in Washington, but a second line is to be in South Carolina.
Boeing and its critics agree that the complex supply chain contributed to nearly three years worth of delays for the 787. But Boeing has said it would bring more of the design and labour back in-house for future programmes.
"If the material set changes, then the supply chain probably won't look the same," Bair said. "But we haven't even come close to thinking about where we might build it or even who might build what."