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Jan 3, 2013

Boeing and the really, truly big news about the 737 MAX

There is a public interest component in the latest order for  60 Boeing 737 MAX airliners, to aircraft leasing company ACG  that is overlooked in the usual corporate ego stroking lang

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There is a public interest component in the latest order for  60 Boeing 737 MAX airliners, to aircraft leasing company ACG  that is overlooked in the usual corporate ego stroking language of aircraft sales win press releases by any manufacturer.

And that is the contribution the new technology engines which are slung under the wing of workhorse sing aisle twin engine jet will make to reducing fossil sourced carbon emissions.

Nothing else really matters. Air transport, like any other fossil fuel consuming activity, has to clean up its act.  As is the case with the sooner to fly and larger selling Airbus program, the A320 NEO or new engine option versions of its single aisle people mover, its all about better engines using much less fuel to perform the same amount of work.

The 737 MAXs, like the Boeing rendering of one below in Virgin Australia livery,  and the A320 NEOs, will be every bit as intolerably uncomfortable in economy class as airline bean counters can render them within the safety rules relating to the maximum permissible passenger loads in each family of misery tubes.

Whether it’s a 737 today, or a 737 MAX after late 2017, the in flight experience will be just as bad, if we ignore alleged improvements to overhead bins or the continued overuse of a ghastly purple hued lights to—quoting the spin doctors—create a sense of spaciousness.

Such cosmetic fluffery isn’t going to stop bone pain when  your knees are jammed hard against the seat  in front of you, which will be so close it will be hard to focus on your iPad, should you by then be allowed to try and use one for the entire flight.

This is what the Boeing statement said:

Boeing [NYSE: BA] announced today an order by Aviation Capital Group (ACG) for 60 737 MAX airplanes. ACG’s order, consisting of 50 737 MAX 8s and 10 737 MAX 9s, was finalized in December 2012. The 737 MAX has now accumulated more than 1,000 orders to date.

“This order is a major step in building our broad portfolio of modern, fuel-efficient airplanes,” said Denis Kalscheur, chief executive officer of ACG. “The 737 MAX enables us to offer our customers airplanes that provide the fuel efficiency, reliability and passenger comforts needed to grow in tomorrow’s marketplace.”

The order, worth $6 billion at current list prices, further illustrates the strong demand for the 737 MAX in the airplane leasing industry.

“We are proud of the confidence that ACG has placed in the 737 MAX,” said John Wojick, senior vice president of Global Sales, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “The 737 MAX will deliver to ACG’s customers unsurpassed efficiency in the single-aisle market as well as improved environmental performance.”

(The statement dribbles off into more cliches. You get the message, no doubt.)

Seriously, the statement should have said, Boeing sells another $6 billion worth of jets to help save the planet, because, cynicism switched off, this is completely true and exceptionally worthy.

It’s pointless making press releases for airliner geeks when the real message should be to citizen travellers, that good things are being done to:

1. Make Boeing, and  its French American engine makers CFM rich, and

2.Reduce human contributions to climate change before they ‘reduce’ us.

The current road map, or flight path, to this starts with reduced emissions from fossil carbon releasing kerosene, with new engine technology, as in the 737 MAX.

The next step or waypoint comes from the fuelling of the same engines with kerosene refined from biological sources.  These processes get their carbon out of the natural carbon cycles, uses it as part of the process for releasing energy, in which it is emitted it back into the cycle it came from, to be used over and over and over, with no net rise to the carbon overburden in the atmosphere caused by the open ended release of fossil fuel emissions.

There is a huge cost bonus in using bio fuels too, even though in small batches they currently cost around 50-60% more than fossil carbon releasing fuel. That is the savings that comes from in situ production. Oil derived aviation fuel is refined in one location and often tankered enormous distances, by fossil fuel burning ships or trucks, while bio fuel projects which have already perfected aviation grade kerosene substitutes from a range of biological materials,  can be made close to  where the jets will refuel.

These reduced distribution costs, and reduced distribution emissions, add to the benefits of bio-fuel production.

After which comes algal grown fuels, and the totally different competing and perhaps complimentary technologies of super batteries that store energy captured from renewables such as solar, tidal and wind power  as proposed in the Boeing SUGAR Volt project.

It is in this context that Boeing’s success with the 737 MAX ought to be sold, not to airplane aficionados but to the general population as a small yet vital element in the energy technology revolution of the twenty first century.

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