The new 737 will be wider than its predecessor and an updated 777 won’t be available for at least a decade according to the head of the team studying the possibility of a replacement 737 for Boeing Reuters reports.
Mike Blair, the head of that team said in an interview yesterday that just six months ago Boeing was focusing on the wide-body market, presumably an upgrade to its popular 777 which is now almost sixteen years old. But that has since changed as demand in the narrow-body market grows and Boeing’s main competitor, Airbus, continues to gain momentum with its re-vamped 737
“Six or nine months ago, we were leaning toward a bigger airplane sooner,” Bair said in an interview yesterday in his office near Boeing’s Everett, Washington, wide-body jet factory. Now, “most of the emphasis is on a new, small airplane.”
A decision to build a new narrow-body jet, which Bair said will come by June, is pivotal as Boeing jockeys for sales with Airbus SAS. With the 787 Dreamliner and new 747-8 jumbo-jet variant running years late and costing billions of dollars in charges, Boeing has vowed to stagger future aircraft programs. That means picking the market segment that will get priority.
Because of Boeing’s shifting focus, the 777 will have to wait for upgrades despite customers clamoring for new engine and wing designs in order to improve the popular plane’s fuel efficiency. But Boeing has been making it increasingly clear that its focus over the coming years will be to get the 787 and 747 up and running and to focus on building a narrow-body aircraft that jump out ahead of its competition.
Along with being more fuel efficient and incorporating the lighter-weight materials first developed for the 787, a new 737 may incorporate some new designs ideas such as a wider body in order to make the plane easier to load and unload faster.
The size of the new model is the most challenging decision left, Bair said, because Boeing will have to make assumptions about air travel in 2030, when the jet would be in its prime. Engineers are studying how to speed loading and unloading, with either a wider aisle or possibly two aisles, he said.
There have been several different opinions on the future of the 737 with Airbus claiming that Boeing will ultimately just decide to re-engine the plane and some analysts arguing that there isn’t enough new technology to justify the enormous investment of a completely re-vamped plane.
Boeing appears confident that it can in fact produce a game-changer in the narrow-body market and we should have a better idea on exactly what it plans to do by this summer.