Single aisle redux

HONG KONG - I’ve been on the road again this week, first in Thailand, and now in Hong Kong for a speech at the Royal Aeronautical Society and to meet with some reporters.

Typically, in my travels, one of the top 2 or 3 questions people pose is: “When are we going to see a “single-aisle” (737-size) replacement?” I think this is a good time to update you on that question.

It’s hard for me to believe, but the last time we talked about this in the blog was a couple of years back when my colleague, Mr. Baseler, shared his unique double take on the subject.

So, you might ask, has anything changed? Well, I’d say that our thinking has not so much changed, but evolved a bit.

We still believe that the Next-Generation 737 is a great product – in fact it’s the most efficient single-aisle airplane operating today, and is still the all-time best-selling commercial airliner. So, you can imagine that developing an airplane that delivers a better value is proving to be a tremendous challenge.

image/photo

In Renton, the moving production line makes it easy to incorporate enhancements onto Next-Generation 737s. About 90% of 737 operators now choose to add fuel-saving, emission-reducing Blended Winglets. And Boeing will incorporate the latest announced enhancement - weight-saving carbon brakes - into the production line later this year.

We’re continuing to study the market, and learning more about what our airline customers need for the future. Obviously, a significant improvement in operating efficiency remains the common thread. And when I say significant, I mean significant. For instance, 15-20% improvement in fuel efficiency and 20-30% reduction in maintenance cost.

As I and my Boeing colleagues have said many times and in many forums, to do this is going to take real breakthroughs in every part of the airplane. We need new engine technologies, and improvements in materials and aerodynamics, as well as new aircraft systems.

Based on how technology is evolving, and what we know today, we now believe the replacement of the Next-Generation 737 will be ready late in the next decade.

In the meantime, we’ll also be studying ways to create even more value in our Next-Generation 737. We’ve steadily enhanced this airplane over the past several years, improving performance, comfort, and navigation precision. We’re looking at possible additional improvements such as interior enhancements, lower weight and drag, and improved engine efficiency.

Boeing and our partners will continue to invest in all the technologies needed for a new generation narrow-body (it may or may not have a single aisle), that will economically replace the 737 and A320 – to ensure the earliest possible entry in to the market.

I’ve always said that our product strategy is shaped by our market forecast, by technology, and most importantly by working with our customers to understand their needs and requirements.

This is a case where there’s clearly a market – more than 17,000 airplanes in the next 20 years. But just as clearly, first the technology needs to be developed in order to produce the right airplane to satisfy that huge market.

Comments (11)

G (France):

Yes, there is a huge market for an airplane in the 737 class. In average, the world will need about 900 new built narrow-bodies per year in the next 20 years. Many of them are for replacement and some others are for growth.

But, I can't fully agree with you when you say, "Boeing and our partners will continue to invest in all the technologies needed for a new generation narrow-body (it may or may not have a single aisle), that will economically replace the 737 and A320".
The next narrow-body will not replace the current 737NG or the current A320. It will replace airplanes that are in operation since 25 to 30 years.

I sincerely believe that airlines like Southwest would be happy to take any narrow-body that has only 10% lower operating cost than the current 737NG. An airplane that is only 10% more efficient than a new built 737-700 is 20% better than a 737-300 built twenty years ago.

Gordon Werner (Seattle, WA):

On the P-8A, the aircraft has raked wingtips. Are these better, in terms of fuel-efficiency and range, than the current blended winglets? and if so, are we going to see them as an option on commercial 737s?

-------

Gordon,

Thanks for the question. The P-8A team changed the wing extension from a Blended Winglet to a raked or backswept wing tip, because the new design provides the same efficiencies as the Blended Winglet, but also increases overall performance for maritime patrol missions.

You can read a bit more about wingtip devices here.

- Randy Tinseth

Kevin Kitura (Calgary,Alberta,Canada):

I hate to state the obvious but since most aircraft are designed around the engines it is pretty clear that the 737 replacement will coincide with the release of the next generation of aircraft engines. So really the correct answer to the question is, ask Rolls Royce, GE, and Pratt & Whitney when their engines will be ready.

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

Congrats on the 737 carbon brake testing, that will mean a lot of weight saved and fuel saved and more payload, I must admit I did not know that steel brakes where still used on the 737.

The Boeing 737 has sold well especially in this decade and is still picking up orders world wide.

The 737 has made great competition with the Airbus A320 family , the 737-700 to the A319, the 737-800 to the A320, and the 737-900 to the A321, of course not all size classes worked, the 737-600, 717, and the A318 115-130 seat market has dwindled, this market has been in decline since the end of the 737-200 and the DC-9 production line. If you combined all of the 737 sold, over 6,000 units, and the total amount of Airbus products sold the 737 comes out on top not just outselling the A320 family but the whole Airbus line.

With the sales still going strong, I would not be too concerned about trying to replace the 737 at the moment for now as production may continue well into the next decade and when the last one rolls out, we would have returned to the moon on the exhaust plumes of an Ares Rocket. But even with with the still strong sales of the 737 I think it is a good idea to begin with the initial design very soon so when the plane goes into production it will be part of a smooth transition from the 737 to the new product and not a transition like what happened between the DC-10 and MD-11 where their was a production stoppage gap in the late eighties that has cost a lot of money and jobs at Douglas.

I think the 737 replacement as a single-aisle should be the widest of its kind with plenty of head space for the people on the window seats, and for the people sitting by the window, the largest in the market, the same windows used on the 787. I also imagine the plane available in three different lengths based on the 737-700, good for Southwest, the 737-800, good for Ryanair, and a version about as long as the A321, good for the existing legacy carriers that will need to replace their 757's, the difference between the lengths is roughly eighteen to twenty feet. I think the 115 to 130 seat category of the six abrest airliner will be gone from the market and I don't think it is necessary to replace the 737-600 or A318, and I think the direct single -aisle 757 replacement may not suit the market at large for now.

Whereas Boeing will develop the 737 replacement, CFM International is developing the LEAP 56 next generation engine, I think this combination will make this replacement airliner virtually unstoppable as both are high quality and reliable products. On the success of this product I think the production may last well into the 2050's with over 25,000 sold within thirty-five years. I look forward to seeing and flying on the plane.

martin nix (renton 737 and everett 787):

I honestly believe we are about to see some real break throughs in lower cost fuels from solar energy. The technology DOES exist to convert garbage, plastic, weeds, algae, and other non-food sources to synfuels, biofuels, biokerosene, and other grown or synthetic fuels. If there is a breakthrough in biofuels that drastically reduces pollution and cost, it could extend the marketing life of the metal frame 737. Prediction! Airlines will literally grow their own fuel in the future.

James (Honolulu):

It pleases me still that Randy B. quoted my comments in his original double take. Those sentiments remain valid -- and perhaps have taken even more importance in just two years' time. Locally, one long-time 737 operator (Aloha Airlines) shut down, a sad fate aided and abetted by high fuel costs.

Even if there wasn't a great breakthrough in engine technology but suppose the blended wing design (think B-2 bomber) offered reasonable savings alone through more efficient aerodynamics and composite construction helped with ancillary operating costs... wouldn't today's economic environment be reason enough to at least start serious feasibility studies???

I know Boeing has plenty on its plate already, but the American automakers are already paying big time for its failure to predict the rise in the price of gas. Boeing should learn from their example.

Mike (Seattle, Wa):

I find it hard to believe that a plane with composite fuselage and/or wing and current engines wouldn't achieve enough weight reduction to offer 'significant' efficiency gains.

Phillip:

I am certain a small team is watching the production problems (mostly shortages and inexperience labor) of 787. Boeing will be fielding a 737 replacement based on 87. Section 41 appears to be the best vendor. The problem with retrofiting 87 style engines to the current 737 would be ground clearance.

Rene Abad (Camiling, Philippines):

Any chance the P&W GTF be fitted into the 737NG before a 737NG replacement comes in?

keesje:

First: thnx for communicating with us aviation enthusiasts in an open & accessible way.

On the topic: the fact that both Airbus and Boeing have enormous backlogs for their narrowbodies and have other big twin aisle projects to deal with, isn't that a big reason too - 20% more efficient narrowbody designs are being pushed into the future?

Seo Web Guide (panama):

This is a great effort to move a step. I know Boeing has plenty on its plate already, but the American automakers are already paying big time for its failure to predict the rise in the price of gas. Boeing should learn from their example.

Whereas Boeing will develop the 737 replacement, CFM International is developing the LEAP 56 next generation engine, I think this combination will make this replacement airliner virtually unstoppable as both are high quality and reliable products.

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