Topic of the Week: Boeing’s 737 MAX

Boeing has now officially launched its 737 with new engines – it’s being called the 737 MAX to counter the A320neo. What do you think of the MAX? Will it be a success?


32 Responses to Topic of the Week: Boeing’s 737 MAX

  1. Gary says:

    What’s the benefit of the new engines? Are they more fuel efficient than their predecessors?

  2. Fred says:

    Any idea on the time frame that these will be available in? If they aren’t going to be around for another 10 years, then so what? But if they manage to beat or get close to Airbus, this could really work.

  3. Roger says:

    Yes the engines are more fuel efficient. Boeing is increasing the diameter of the engines whilst not having to change the landing gear since the the 737 sits lower to the ground than their 320 counterparts. The new engines will be between 66 and 68 inches (still smaller than the A320) up from the current 61 inch diameter. he new engines will be more fuel efficient while also being heavier and creating more drag. With scheduled deliveries in 2017, these planes will be around for many years.

    Sources: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-08-31/boeing-bets-on-new-737-max-to-win-1-trillion-in-jet-orders.html
    http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2011/08/31/361438/boeing-narrows-737-max-engine-fan-size-options-to-two.html

  4. Scott says:

    I think the success or failure of the 737MAX will depend on whether or not Pratt’s GTF engine delivers the large fuel savings they claim. As I understand it, the 737s ground clearance issues prevent using the GTF. So, if the Leap-X engine on can’t come close to the GTF, then the 737MAX is at a competitive disadvantage that would have to be made up through both pricing and lower maintenance.

  5. The success will depend on how many are sold. But with the reputation of the 737 and the 1000’s that have been sold, airlines who already have 737’s are more likely to purchase them to keep their fleets more standard.

  6. Jason H says:

    The 737-7, -8, and -9 should be more fuel efficient not just from the engines but from other minor changes taken from lessons learned on the 787-8. Jon over at Flightblogger detailed some changes such as removing a fuselage join point and adding the 787-8 tailcone.

    Will it succeed? I think it will if for no other reason than that which allows the A350 to gain traction. The line slots for the A320neo are already stretching into the 2020 timeframe. If an airlines wants delivery soon they will look harder at the 737MAX. Additionally there are a lot of airlines that have the 737NG series and they will value the interoperability that a mild derivative gives. This was the same selling point for the A320neo vs A320.

    As an aside I really like the new designators for the 737MAX family. I always wondered about the -700. It implies to me there were 700 design derivatives before that airframe was arrived at.

    • I’d be weary of putting too much faith in the analysis of removing the fuselage join point and those pieces of work. Jon is comparing actual plane photographs versus some previsualisation renderings. I’m quite sure an engineer was involved in the renderings, but the type of detailed engineering that you have to do to actually build a plane, hasn’t been done yet. Basically we’re looking at Boeings well educated guess.

  7. Sean says:

    At the very least the commonality it offers should get the major 737NG players to go with the 737MAX over the A320Neo.

    I believe American Airlines was a special case in that no manufacturer could have provided the total number of frames they need on such a short time frame.

  8. The marketplace basically told Boeing that it had to update the 737 sooner than later; and re-engining was the only practical short term option. The MAX should sell well, as has the NEO. But it seems to me that both are stop gap measures that buy the necessary time to fully develop clean sheet designs.

  9. David says:

    The concept is great, the name is very disappointing. I am also weary of Boeing comparing numbers of their plane that doesn’t exist to the A320neo that also does not exist.

    David

  10. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

    Pretty logical move by Boeing to counter the Airbus A320NEO. It’ll ensure that the current airlines with big 73 fleets (AA, DL, WN etc.) won’t necessarily switch to Airbus for a replacement. But as someone else mentioned, both of these models are really just stopgap measures until these companies come out with a true next generation type.

  11. mattheww50 says:

    The problem today with an all new model is that in a single aisle aircraft it isn’t clear you can improve it enough to justify the R&D costs. As more experience is gained with new materials and advanced engine technologies, that picture will almost certainly change.

    The other part of the problem is the two manufacturers are in over their heads with engineering work as it stands. The 787 is still a work in progress, the A350 is nowhere near complete, and there is still work to clean up the A380. The engineering resources for another all new airframe just aren’t available today.

    I believe Boeing has already announced the Leap-X engine they will use has a 170cm fan. That’s about 2cm larger than the the fan on the current CFM56-7 engine. Bigger would be better, but changing the landing gear sets off a veritble cascade of other changes that will climb out of the woodwork. Entry into service will be a lot sooner if all they have to do is rework the pylons and nacelles.

    As for the advantages of the GTF, the real question is reliability. I am compelled to point out that only Russians have experience with very powerful gear systems on airplanes. By contrast the reliability of the CFM56 is legendary, so there is the expectation that Leap-X will also be very reliable.

    my thoughts

  12. DRG says:

    Hate the name. Sounds like a tampon. Boeing has been getting far too cute in its product branding efforts since the “Dreamliner” silliness.

  13. Ed Perkins says:

    Re-endining the 737 is probably good for Boeing, but it’s terrible for travelers. As any traveler knows, the 737 just isn’t wide enough to allow comfortable seats six-across. The 737 shares the same cabin width as the original 707, and the sad facs is that over the last 50+ years, travelers have gotten wider but the seats haven’t. Presusmably, in a clean new design, Boeing would have recognized the need for wider seats. Now we’ll all be stuck in cattle cars for the foreseeable future.

    • I truly hope that this is the widest people will become, and we’ll start to address the root causes of America’s (and the world’s) bad food and health choices. There isn’t any truly rational reason for the size people have become.

    • XJT DX says:

      I believe Boeing recognized the issue and provided an extremely comfortable, spacious cabin on the 787 with 2-4-2 seating. Airlines responded by ordering cramped 3-3-3 seating that puts it at about the same width as the 737 seats.

  14. Daren S says:

    Neither the 737Max nor the A320 Neo are game changers. For such an important slice of the commercial aviation market neither of the leading players are taking any risks. As one of the comments earlier, both have enough on their plate with other projects. I guess the oil price might play a role when the global economy recovers, pushing the need for great efficiencies. Both will probably need to have something more radical to offer.

  15. yo says:

    Sounds like a brand of Pepsi

  16. The 737 MAX Will blow away the A-320 NEO. The aircraft itself will be built to do just that. However the A-320 NEO does have the element of being the first one launched. It was considered as a replacement option for the 757 by airlines before the 737 MAX was even released. It will be interesting to see who wins this rivalry.

  17. Eric says:

    Has Boeing made mention if they’ll use the increased fuel efficiency to extend range (ie, leave the fuel tanks the current size) or will they reduce the tank size and thus the empty weight? If they extend range I’d imagine Alaska will be first in line to grab them so they can make Hawai’i against headwinds without fuel stops.

    • mattheww50 says:

      It is very rare to reduce the size of tanks. On many aircraft you can’t fill the tanks with a commercial payload and be under MGTOW. There are some 777-200ER’s out there that OEW+full tanks EXCEEDS MGTOW. Generally added OEW means reduced payload rather than reduce fuel carriage.

      The 737MAX is likely to take a very small payload hit relative to the NG because the engines are likely to weigh more. It is probably going to be on the order of 100kg, some of which they may get back by changing the manufacturing process. Reducing the tank size is very unlikely, it takes engineering and manufacturing changes. All that is likely to happen is the OEW on the aircraft will go up slightly. The end result is range almost has to go up. The tanks aren’t going to change, and they payload dosn’t change materially, so the fuel carriage remains the same. If you burn 10% less fuel, that is 10% improvement in range. My thumbnail puts the 737max-9 range at about 3000nm with a realistic commercial payload, the -8 about 3300nm. These aircraft will have no trouble flying to Hawaii from anywhere on the west coast. But neither the 737MAX or the A320NEO is going to fly the pond.

      • Eric says:

        That would give the 737-9 better range than the 737-800, yes? It’d be a huge deal for Alaska to be able to run the -9 to Hawai’i, especially if Southwest enters the market with a higher-density single-class 800.

        • mattheww50 says:

          737-900 has relatively short legs compared to the -800 because it is a heavier airframe, has more seats, but exactly the same fuel carriage and MGTOW of the -800. In other words if you fill the seats, not only does the aircraft weigh substantially more, you carry less fuel as well.
          This makes the -900 substantially less capable than the -800.

          This issue is at least partially addressed on the -900ER, which increases the usable fuel carriage by about 13,000 pounds. That gives the -900ER wthout aux tanks probably about 10% less range than the -800 with a commercial payload. If the -9 improves the fuel burn by 10%, the 737MAX-9 should have about the same range as the current -800W.

          It does not appear the Boeing plans to increase the size of the fuel tanks, wihch are the same on the -800, -900 and -900ER.

  18. Greg says:

    Personally, I think it’s a joke (as is the NEO)
    Strapping on new engines to an airframe that’s from 2-3 DECADES ago and touting that as the solution to the needs of the short haul market for the future is proof that they don’t care at all about the single aisle family. There are NO advancements in tech being introduced either. Although here Boeing is the bigger loser. The A320 At least has a maintenance computer (and they’re adding electric brakes to the NEO). Maintenance on the 737 is from the stone age

    It’s like saying you can strap on a brand new F1 engine to an F1 car from 1980 and win with it…..

    • Jason H says:

      Given the pure cost of designing a new airframe this is really the only solution for both Boeing and Airbus. As was mentioned earlier with the 787-8, 747-8i, A350, and A380 there just isn’t the engineering bandwidth to bring new airframes to market for the big two. Are they risking the market to the Bombarier/Embraer/etc/etc of the world? Yes. But what would you have them do? This performs a stopgap and allows them to better evaluate what design aspects they can borrow from their other new planes to better increase efficiency.

      • Greg says:

        The “stopgap” solution that everyone keeps referring to here is supposed to take the respective programs (A320 FAM and B737 FAM) well past 2030.
        The question is do you want to be flying 50 year old designs in 2030?
        Its like flying the 707 or 727 now
        Furthermore, while we’re on the subject, the 737 family has been going through just these “stopgaps” (or evolutions if you will) since it came into existence back in the 60s
        737-100/200 (Boeing 737 Antiques…?)
        737-3/4/500 (Boeing 737 Classics)
        737-6/7/8/900 (Boeing 737 NG)
        And now the Max….?

        Its had its day in the sun – it leaves behind a legacy that will be live on forever. But its time for Boeing to do something NEW!!!! Something groundbreaking – a gamechanger like the 787

        I recall back when the 787 was initially launched and Airbus came with their A350 design, it was a joke just like these solutions (I’m sure many back in France called it a stopgap as well). Boeing in fact made a hilarious video to ridicule them. It was the pressure that Airbus received after that that forced them to actually design a new aircraft rather than the nonsense solution the A350 was in the beginning
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrECbn7kttg&feature=youtube_gdata_player

        I expected something like the NEO from Airbus as a knee jerk reaction to counter Bombardier – afterall thats exactly how they reacted to the 787

        But I certainly did not expect Boeing to follow suit…….

  19. A says:

    I’m late the this discussion, but agree that it’s a joke. With all the forward thinking Boeing had with the 787 program, slapping some new jets on the 737 seems a little lame. I’m sure it was a business decision in the near term, but why the heck does it take so long to bring a new airframe to market? Back in the 60’s the DC-10 and L1011 were developed and certified in a matter of a couple years, and those engineers were working on slide rules! Is there a shortage of aerospace engineers out there today? When I was in Engineering school everyone dreamed of working for Boeing. I’m sure they could find the talent.

    • Good question. My gut tells me its about complexity and regulations. That being said, I’ve emailed two aerospace engineers for their take..

    • So I chatted with my aerospace engineer friend. There are several things we chatted about. (which upon him mentioning them, seem pretty obvious)
      -The 737 and A320 are extremely mature designs that have been in service for decades, so they’ve had their bugs pretty much all fixed and are extremely reliable. If you want the plane to go out with the least amount of problems you want a well debugged airplane. (Witness 717, E190, and A380 teething pains. I’d mention the 787 as well, but thats not yet in revenue service.)
      -Even if a newer narrowbody is more fuel-efficient, it will initially spend more time on the ground and less time in the air per month (due to a lower dispatch rate) than a 737 or A320 would. Airplanes don’t make money on the ground. (Unless they’ve been decommissioned and they’ve got a restaurant in em.) So that increased fuel efficiency has a harder time paying itself off.
      – Airlines are tightly lined up along the 737 and A320 markets and have been standardizing their fleets aggressively, this makes the hurdles to bring a new plane online that much higher. (Training crews, having spare parts, spare planes, etc.)
      – A new design’s better fuel efficiency will have a hard time paying for itself in terms of added revenue per month. On the other hand, in long-haul airplanes like the 787 and A380, the improved fuel efficiency makes a huge impact and easily outweighs the expected maintenance issues that will almost certainly pop up. For short-haul airplanes, that impact from less fuel burn is relatively not quite as huge.
      – The 737 and A320 are pretty headache free, so why would airlines bring headaches on the property? There have to be pretty good reasons for doing that.
      – Part of it does have to do with how new designs take more work, due to regulations, and due to how we try to make everything as efficient as possible, shave stuff until it’s just above whatever margin we set. And how new regulations make it slightly harder for an airplane to be quite as light, etc, because more things are required now.

      (Just a quick disclaimer, these thoughts don’t represent any official company stance.)

  20. Greg says:

    Nicholas
    The same argument could have held true back when Boeing came out with the 777 (they could’ve stretched the 767 further) or the 787 (which could’ve been a 767 NG)

    Possible teething problems at entry into service should not be a deterring factor from designing something new where the need exists
    The need existed when the 777 came around as did it exist when the 787 was introduced and the need exists more than ever for the 737 family….

    From Boeing every evolution to their programs has included some form of a revamp from a technology or design perspective – the 737NG, 747-4, -8

    If you compare the 737-MAX with what they’ve been doing so far, its a joke. Its atypical for Boeing and maybe its just me, but I’ve gotten used to expecting so much more from them.

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