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Feb 3, 2016

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A better photo of the 737 MAX 8 making its first flight
A better photo of the 737 MAX 8 making its first flight

The Wall Street Journal says Boeing may deliver the 737 MAX to customers much sooner than previously intended and has plans to give its new tech single aisle family a better wing, higher undercarriage and bigger engine further down the track.

These are significant developments in the contest between the already-in-service Airbus A320 NEO line and the similarly revised Boeing 737 MAX series.

Since the initial 737 MAX 8 flew last Friday its test program has been more like that of an in service aircraft, with at least three flights taking place since then.

The WSJ report says Boeing is aiming for first deliveries of the jet as soon as next March instead of much later in 2017.

However it also reports Boeing as talking to potential customers about what sound like very substantial design improvements for the MAX family, including a new wing, a higher ground clearance undercarriage, which would facilitate the reported offering of more powerful engines, and other changes.

These changes could overcome what are seen by some airlines and analysts as serious shortfalls in the performance or potential of the MAX line versus the NEO family from Airbus that are particularly noticeable at the higher capacity end of the Boeing and Airbus offers.

The Airbus 321 NEO has in terms of sales so far left the corresponding 737 MAX 9 variant floundering in its wake.  The A321 NEO has invaded the natural territory Boeing had carved out for itself with its no longer in production 757 line, leading to the US planemaker floating various plans for an all new Middle of the Market or MoM jet, and an even higher capacity all new jet pitched at replacing 757s being used for notably longer haul routes, as well as the capacity of obsolete Airbus A300s and A310s.

The changes mentioned in the WSJ report would take some time to implement and certify, and result in jets markedly different to the MAX series as currently offered.

They might also cause a response by Airbus, most likely one it has been sitting on for some time in anticipation of Boeing moving to claw back what it has lost to the NEOs so far.

But not everything has gone to plan at Airbus either. The initial deliveries of the A320 NEO were held up by issues with the Pratt & Whitney geared turbo fan engine.

Plane spotters in recent days have seen the first A321 NEO emerge from its final assembly line carrying the alternative new technology LEAP engines on its wing, similar to the engine chosen for the MAX family, rather than the recently troubled P & W design.

The contest between the two engine designs is running in parallel to the Airbus v Boeing battle over the single aisle jet market, and like everything in the airliner game, nothing ever runs as smoothly as intended.

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37 thoughts on “WSJ: Boeing plans early 737 MAX deliveries, plus future new wing

  1. comet

    Wow. Boeing can’t possibly be thinking of propping up the carcass of the 737 even more.

  2. Concorde

    Agree Comet. Boeing are effectively acknowledging their new MAX design is flawed by already indicating wing and undercarriage improvements are in the works.

    They should take the MAX deliveries they have and turn their focus to a clean-sheet 737 successor. Something 767 in size width wise with a ‘lite’ version of the 787 engines, gear and systems.

  3. Grant McHerron (aka Falcon124)

    Nutshell translation:
    Now that Boeing have slowed the flow of clients to the NEO by rushing to market a minimally re-engined 737 with the few minor tweaks they could quickly get approved, it’s time to do what they should have from the beginning but had no time for: putting a new wing & undercart on so the 737 could support a larger, more effective GTF engine.

  4. comet

    New wing, new undercarriage to prop up this 1960s-heritage plane.

    Boeing seems to have no appetite to do an all-new design, which is what they should have done 20 years ago.

    They got drained by the 787 fiasco, and they don’t want to do it again.

  5. Tango

    Comet and Concorde:

    Boeing has itself in a tough spot, its their own doing, but they are also doing the best they can with what they have. It is also is due to past management.

    The 737 is not flawed. It was a terrific aircraft that had a lot of growth potential. And yes the last generation should have benefit.

    However, what is easy to criticize if you arn’t the one responsible for the ship. A new program costs something in the neighborhood of 10 billion (if its done right, we have seen examples form Boeing and Airbus how costly they are when done wrong)

    There is also no game changing technology out there (some ideas). So Boeing spends 10 billion on an A320 looks alike with no gain?

    A larger aircraft is not going to fill the need for the current single aisle.

    What does Boeing have to sell the 797 for to make a profit in a reasonable time? Airbus has their stuff all paid for and can cut as low as they want.

    So while an all new aircraft is needed, it has to offer something major to justify it. Yes they are working on it but how soon?

    In the meantime, if they can manage to be competitive or even a bit ahead with a starch, larger aircraft at, larger new wing and match or exceed the A321 then its the right way to go.

    short of a technological miracle, that is the reality.

    I think Boeing is working on shaping up their operation with the new management but they have to work through what they inherited.

    737MAX is looking very good and the KC46 is looking real good right now as well.

    777X will be a real test so that’s one to keep an eye on.

  6. Travel Hound

    The new wing and extended landing gear is the trick here.

    First Point.

    The A321’s wing is on the small side for a plane flying 4500nm. It is in no means optimised and as such will have a hard time trying to compete with an aircraft where the wing has been specifically designed for flying 5000nm stage lengths.

    A 737 with a wing optimised for 5000nm is going to be a very different aircraft to the 737MAX. We have to remember the MAX will generally fly stage lengths of 500-1500nm and as such it will be in a different market space.

    The good news for the 737 program is that sme of the fly by wire systems developed for the 737 MOM could make their way back onto the MAX. This could bring an extra percent or two of efficiency into the aircraft.

    This is good news for Boeing. The 737 is well sorted and a cash cow. Can you ever have too much of a good thing??

  7. ghostwhowalksnz

    Boeing currently -this week- doesnt have a plane problem,it has a plunge ( 10% last week)in its stock price which will have the hair on fire of those in executive row. So read the ‘news’ in that context. The 737 certainly isnt going to get a new wing, not soon , not ever. It doesnt make sense for this size of plane and the selling price would make it unaffordable – ask Bombardier on that!

    The introduction of the 737 max slows down planes delivered as they are diverted to testing and such, planes delivered means cash flow, so this talk is merely to calm the stock market.
    The new plane has been talked-thought-dreamed about for some time and is years away- even further with the expected low fuel prices continuing.
    Looking at the overall picture the 767 delivery rate is dropping this year, the 747 and 777 delivery rate is dropping and the 737 the same until customers take delivery of neos.
    Its and old fashioned pump of the shares , so well see if it works.

  8. Travel Hound

    You could be right GHwNZ,

    …. but I don’t think the idea of re-winging the 737 for a MOM aircraft isn’t that bad of an idea.

    It will be interesting to see where this news story heads.

  9. Giant Bird

    I am also with GHwNZ, its all a lie. This is the company who lied and lied and lied some more about the 787. A tiger does not change its stripes, and ingrained company culture does not change by rearranging the deck chairs in Chicago. Only fools don’t learn from their mistakes and believe any promises Boeing makes. Only take any notice of what they say when it is in a contract with penalties and then be very cautious.

  10. StickShaker

    The the development cost of the 737MAX was rumoured to be in the vicinity of 3 to 4 billion dollars and the aircraft was expected to be produced for 10 to 15 years.
    To be suggesting a much higher cost variant before the MAX enters service does not make economic sense. Raising the undercarriage means a completely new centre wing box and then a new wing. The price tag for a new wing alone is around $2 billion. This is a major re-work on the scale similar to that of the 777X with similar costs and development timeframe.

    I just can’t see Boeing shareholders giving the green light for this concept – it is far too late in the 737’s life. As others have suggested it is essentially an attempt to turn the 737 into a 757.

    Any announcement of such a quasi 757 program would immediately depress prices and resale values of the MAX series when it is just getting into stride – it would be an own goal by the Boeing team.

    Boeing have made a killing in the wide body market for the last 10 to 15 years – they might be better just accepting that you can’t dominate every single market segment.

  11. Confirmed Sceptic

    Boeing would be better off doing a new wing for the 757 and a technology update. But they have probably taken a tax write off by destroying all the tooling by now.

  12. Dan Dair

    I agree with Ghost that it’s very likely to be a ploy to restore share price
    &
    I accept SS’s point about depressing the marketability & price of the current new aircraft even before it comes into service,

    BUT,

    Purely in terms of the cost of redeveloping the wing & wing-box as against the cost of a ‘clean-sheet’ design, it looks like good business.
    Assuming Boeing could get a clean-sheet design to market for only $10 billion (which I very much doubt),
    they have a proven track-record of a similar redesign on the B777 which cost around $5 billion.

    Since there is essentially nothing wrong with the B737 airframe, Boeing would be genuinely extending the life of this old campaigner, by giving it a genuinely competitive (if not better) chance against the comparative Airbus
    AND they would be overcoming the take-off rotation & engine-option issues at the same time as giving the option to have yet further fuselage extensions.

  13. ghostwhowalksnz

    Dan there is ‘no proven record on the 777X’, as you are aware its 5 years away from EIS.
    The wing box ( and its flaps and leading eges) would only be half of the project as they have to develop a full 3 axis fly by wire system to take advantage of savings in structural design.
    The possible market for a 200 seater for long range markets would be around 200 units. is there really an airline that can have a big need for Pittsburg to London or Ottawa to Barcelona or Canberra to Singapore

  14. Tango

    If you follow Boeing you would be aware they recently settled their contract with the Engineers union early and quietly.

    there is a reason McNenerney is gone, and gone before the 100th anniversary. the board shucked him and good riddance.

    Muilenberg is at early states, has inherited a mess of monstrous proportions and I think its worth giving him a chance to prove himself. So far its been good.

  15. Aidan Stanger

    Ghost, the demand is more likely to be from low cost airlines introducing transatlantic services from their existing operational hubs, some of which don’t have long enough runways for widebody aircraft.

  16. Dan Dair

    ghostwhowalksnz,
    I was more speculating upon the development costs being spread across the the whole of the future B737 range, rather than being specific about the long-haul version.

    A better wing with taller landing-gear would enable bigger (diameter) engines to be fitted.
    Bigger engines would extend the life of the airframe, as it would allow for future engine developmental upgrades.
    A ceiling which the wing of the current model has already, effectively reached.

  17. StickShaker

    Ghost: Good point about FBW. I imagine it would be a nightmare to attempt to design and fit a FBW system to a design that entered service 20 years before the widespread adoption of FBW with the A320 – if not a show-stopper.
    This is where the analogy with the 777X is weak as the 777 is a 1990’s design that had FBW right from the outset.

    The 777X probably represents the most extensive (and costly) derivative of an existing aircraft design – the suggested re-winged 737 with FBW would be going several steps further.

  18. Dan Dair

    Still probably massively cheaper than a clean-sheet design, though.?

  19. StickShaker

    Dan Dair: – as you say it would be cheaper than a clean sheet design but its also a case of what you get for your money and how future proof your final product will be.
    You get to a point where further (significant) investment in an old design comes up against the law of diminishing returns – twice the investment wont get you twice the return. Every incremental % of performance or efficiency increases exponentially in cost.

    A new wing-box, wing, control systems etc is a lot of engineering complexity and cost just to lengthen those little 737 legs.
    You will inevitably be burdened by various legacy systems and features that simply cannot be upgraded and these will have an impact upon weight, efficiency, maintenance etc.
    It also pushes out the development time-frame which upsets the ROI equation. My guess would be that mating current state of the art engineering technology with legacy 1960’s technology would be approaching the risk levels of a clean sheet program without matching its ROI or product lifespan.

    From a strategy point of view any serious talk of a new 737/757 would trash the MAX program – Boeing would be effectively admitting that the MAX can’t do the job.
    If the MAX didn’t exist then no doubt it would be a different story.

  20. Tango

    People continue to make negative comments on the 737, it is not deserved. It was a great aircraft for its time, it was never envision to replace a 707.

    It had an amazing run, Boeing was let down by management, the 737 did not let Boeing down. Don’t blame the aircraft.

    So, chew on this, 737MAX Leap engine puts out the same thrust as the A320 LEAP and GTF. Smaller diameter and lighter.

    And the two questions that have to be dealt with by current management are.

    1. Do you let Airbus have the A321+ market area? Airbus is selling those like hot cakes and the competing (or not so competing -9) is not. As there is not competition Airbus can make more money on the A321.

    2. And its not a question of all new, but all new what? Its going to cost at least 10 billion and the ROI will stretch of for 10 years (or longer)
    And that said do you get a 20% improvement for the 10 b billion or a wash?

    While the 787 is doing well, its not like its blowing away efficiency by 30%. Its more like 15% and they threw the whole technology basket at it from mostly composite to mostly electrical architecture .
    Airbus who went with what they could got a good aircraft on a compromised version of composite structure and conventional systems.

    In short, for all the critics, what technology do you offer that gives a 30% efficient jump at an affordable building price?

    And keep in mind, Airbus was not brilliant with the A320 setup. They went with the trend at the time of larger engines and designed accordingly (and did good but larger engine were what were being used then, they did not forecast it and make a brilliant choice. ).

    That was not the state of art when the 737 (and 727) were built.

    What Boeing has to do is investigate all the possibilities and see where the return is.

    It may be they live with the situation or launch the so called MOM where Airbus has not competitor and turn the table (dis the 787 all you want but the backlog is still over 800, its still selling and Airbus has nothing in that slot)

    But if they can viably upgrade the 737 and it returns what they need then there is nothing wrong with that.

    The wrong part was not replacing after the last upgrade, but that was a previous management debacle that current has to live with.

  21. comet

    I like the 737. I fly in it often. It was a good aircraft in its day, apart from the occasional crash due to the rudder hard-over problem that earlier models suffered.

    The 787, however, was a debacle from the beginning.

  22. Dan Dair

    StickShaker,
    You make your arguments well & I don’t specifically take issue with them,
    but,
    Part of the issue, for me, is whether Boeing can afford to have a ‘clean-sheet’ design,
    And,
    If they can’t afford it, can they still afford to do nothing.?

    I fully accept your ‘diminishing returns’ point,
    but sooner or later Boeing are going to have to bite-down on this particular bullet or the cash-cow of their entire business is going to dry up.

  23. Tango

    Comet: 737 is still a good aircraft, it certainly has been taken further than it should be, doesn’t make it a bad aircraft just bad management decisions.

    I don’t know how you conclude the 787 is a debacle. It both a technical and operation success.
    If you count options it has something like 2500 potential builds let alone the over 850 or so on actually order and 300+ flying.

    Very few of its issues are technical related and even those were management induced tech issues.

    The battery was outsourced down 3 different paths. Simply put Yuasa quality control was crap (non existent) for a battery type that takes the highest standards to even get a 70% success rate.

    That was a management decision (Saft knows how to build GOOD batteries)

    The charger was subbed subbed out to something eventually called Aviation Security under a Thales BAE sub sub contract (who never made a charge in their lives).

    Again that was a management decision.

    The monitor board was made by Japanese company that had not association with any of them.

    No one coordinated the oversight or coordination of the parts, they just arrived and were assembled at the factory. Obviously the right thing would be to contract Saft abd tell them to make us a battery SYSTEM.

    Boeing management killed off the Boeing electronics division that would have handled that battery.

    They provided no oversight to be sure any of it was done right (the pictures od the crud in the air at the Yuas battery mfg operation would make you cry, I would not make cast lead bullets in that kind of environment)

    By scattering the project all over the glove and providing no oversight, Boeing lost control of the entire project and did not regain control until they build a large number of teams (engineers, logistic specialist as well as finically ) who could go snuff out the screw ups scattered all over the globe.

    In all that there was a single electrical failure that was purely technical related and fortunately occurred in testing that proved the electrical isolation system did not work. Hard telling if that would ever have occurred in the real world as it was a wrench left in a panel that shifted and shorted out.

    I suspect if Boeing electronics division still existed that would never have happened either.

    With all the management induced screw up its a struggle to be a financial success though the backlog is probably good enough for it to be

    The engineers did an incredible job as did the workers, management screw ups were of biblical proportions.

  24. comet

    I like the 737, though it must be a tight fit for the pilots in that cramped cockpit. I’m happy to ride on the 737.

    Tango said:

    “I don’t know how you conclude the 787 is a debacle.”

    Tango, your description in the post above lays out why the 787 Dreamliner was a debacle.

    Cost overruns were about 3x. It is not profitable and there’s a good chance it never will be. It was grounded worldwide because it wasn’t safe. The remedy, a FireBox, doesn’t impress me. I still don’t consider that a safe option. And I feel nervous about those baked barrels of composite weave, regarding wear and lightning conductivity. I won’t fly on a 787, even before factoring in tight seating.

    But the 737 is nice. Safe. Proven. I like it.

  25. Tango

    Comet:

    So to break it down, the 787 is a financial debacle?

    That’s beyond accurate, total screw up.

    If you doubt the integrity of the construion then I assume you wouild have to doubt all contsution. Its been hammered, beat, bent, etc just the same as a convetional aircratft.

    If its not vialbe then the A350 is not, large parts of the A380 as I belive the wingbox on that one is composite.

    Battery: that is also a fair question but I don’t think your take is correct.

    I think they put a very effective patch on an ugly problem.

    The chemistry is the worst you can pick of that type of battery and they should have changed it.

    I don’t think it makes it unsafe, and I don’t understand why they don’t have a program in place to change at least the chemistry to a less volatile one.

    Frankly though, in the list of risk of taking an aircraft down, I think its as close to zero as you can get.

    I would be much more worried about pilots that can’t fly the aircraft than the battery.

    I can’t think of a non terrorist loss lately that was not attributed to pilots capability.

  26. Uwe

    “The introduction of the 737 max slows down planes delivered as they are diverted to testing and such, planes delivered means cash flow, so this talk is merely to calm the stock market.”

    Another issue is that there are not enough NG in the backlog.
    ( view together with moved left deliveries of MAX frames. )
    Another eloquent variation on “don’t talk about production reductions”. for the 777 it was “we will stay at better than 9 frames / month via producing 6 777 Classics and counting 777X frames as equivalent to 4..6..8 777 Classic frames ( accounted by time and money spent ). under those rules the 787 always was produced at 10 a month 🙂

  27. GeorgeD

    I’m not quite as skeptical as others.

    Is it possible that they could do the design work for a MAX+ wing and undercarriage, optimised for a future MOM body?

  28. Dan Dair

    GeorgeD,
    Yes, it is possible.

    Unfortunately, based on what Ghost, Uwe & StickShaker have said, it is unlikely that there really is a re-winged B737 to get all excited about.?

    That would be a real shame IMO, as the B737 is essentially a sound airframe,
    but,
    it is a very, very old design.
    The wings got re-made ten years ago, or so, but the essential nature of the wing wasn’t changed.
    Consequently, as by-pass fan-jet engines increase in diameter, the B737 wing has reached it’s limit of what it can support. Hence the choice of LEAP engine, rather than the (problematic) GTF engine.

    I was quite enthused by the idea that an all-new wing would allow bigger engines to be utilised as they were developed & it would allow a yet longer fuselage, which would give it the chance to compete ‘head-to-head’ against the A321.

    As I mentioned in an earlier post,
    Boeing & the B737 are at critical points.
    Boeings’ ‘cash-cow’ will dry-up if they can’t compete with the A320 family.

    How much longer can Boeing afford NOT to either;
    Massively upgrade their ‘known’ product,
    or
    Invest much, much more on a clean-sheet design, which may be a composite of proven components but will still be unproven as a complete entity.?

  29. GeorgeD

    “You will inevitably be burdened by various legacy systems and features that simply cannot be upgraded and these will have an impact upon weight, efficiency, maintenance etc.”

    There’s some good commentary over at Leeham about systems, and these are worth quite a bit in terms of maintenance, weight, distance, and fuel. How much can a legacy platform sustain upgrades? I don’t know. If it can, then there’s less reason to ditch it, and if it can’t, then a new platform becomes more compelling.

  30. derrida derider

    THis is all getting a bit like the proverbial grandad’s old axe that has had its handle replaced twice and its head replaced three times. About the only thing left in common with the original 737 is the fuselage tube – perhaps they’ll want to replace it with a lighter composite one in the future.

    Actually, for a mature industry this incremental upgrade might be a really good strategy – it is a lot easier each time to get certification than doing clean sheet designs. Maybe the current model names will still be in use in another 50 years.

  31. Uwe

    “About the only thing left in common with the original 737 is the fuselage tube”

    Friend of mine alleged that structurally it is only the wingbolts that are still the same 🙂

  32. comet

    The original 737 had 60% parts commonality with the 727.

    If you claim today’s 737s have nothing in common with the original 737, then why is it still plagued with ground clearance issues? Today’s 737 sits on the ground like a 727.

  33. Tango

    Comet: There is a huge difference in structure and materials and architecture.

    Wing is all new but shape and materials, not the landing gear setup, that would have been a major change and should have been done if they were going to do it. There for a while it was uncertain if Boeing would keep making aircraft at all.

    Fuselage is all new but the materials are different and how it was originally assembled.

    a lot of the system have been updated but they have not done an MD10 type cockpit change and eliminated all the buttons and switches in the overhead.

    So while it looks a lot the same its not, doesn’t change the impact but current 737 is all new and the 737MAX has a number of changes as well.

  34. comet

    The Boeing 737 had its first flight in April 1967.

    Next year it will be the golden 50th anniversary of the 737 flying the world’s skies. Quite extraordinary that any vehicle design could last so long, and a credit to the original concept.

    But incremental updates have wedded the 737 to early 1960s design philosophy.

  35. comet

    Don’t forget that the 737’s undercarriage comes from the 727, which flew in 1963.

    That’s the year Elvis released You’re the Devil in Disguise and JFK got assassinated. Not too many other vehicles from that era are still around today, except maybe the Land Rover.

  36. ghostwhowalksnz

    “Fuselage is all new but the materials are different and how it was originally assembled.”
    Trouble with this theory of total renewal while looking the same is that continuing use of the original airworthiness certification doesnt allow it.( Except when a major change is made like the wing and its checked through and allowed)
    Todays requirements are far more demanding and paperwork intensive and would require the existing fixes to solve minor and major problems be totally rethought.

    The costs of redesign, re certification and mostly the use of new construction processes mean a new plane is probably un affordable compared to what Boeing charges for its 737. Even then I’m sure the ‘construction block’ which they use the cover the extra costs involved will be in the ‘thousands’ ( Just as a new building or shopping centre is expected to recover its costs over a long period , the same applies to new planes)

  37. StickShaker

    Dan Dair: You make a good point as to whether Boeing can afford to do nothing. The elephant in the room is how Airbus would respond to any 737/757 announcement from Boeing – they certainly wont sit on their hands. The A321 market space will be aggressively defended.

    Ghost: Boeing use what they call “Program Accounting” which effectively hides the true development costs of a new type. This has effectively disguised the true cost of the 787 program.
    Interesting point about certification – amazing that Boeing has used grandfathering rights for so long on one aircraft type.

    Comet: In 1963 the EH Holden was released – it was a good year (the EH increased birth rates far more than the 737).

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