The December - January issue of Aviation and the Environment features a look at what is now being dubbed the 737 Re-Generation, a half generation leap for Boeing's venerable narrowbody with suite of new enhancements.
The piece, authored by Scott Hamilton of Leeham & Co, draws together information from "nearly a dozen sources with knowledge on some level of the Boeing studies going forward and learned that Boeing is quietly - super quietly - studying how to improve the 737 Next Generation."
In the near term, Hamilton states that FlyDubai, which ordered 50 new 737-800 aircraft at the Farnborough Air Show in July, will be the launch customer for a new interior for the narrowbody, drawing on 787 features to remake the 737 cabin. Delivery was originally planned for September 2009, but Hamilton adds that it could be delayed by the Fall's two-month IAM strike.
Boeing declined to comment on any specific 737 changes, but added that they are constantly working on improving the aircraft for customers.
Much of the article draws on speculative planning for the future, but outlines key design improvement provisions that could be incorporated in future blockpoint changes in 2013 and 2015.
Hamilton details that, "a new avionics system is likely, with a key feature making RNP standard." Yesterday's announcement by Southwest to retrofit 150 737-300s with new large panel avionics for RNP opens the door for speculation that the 15-inch glass displays could find their way into a 737 Re-Generation.
Much of the improvement in operating cost would be derived from the incorporation of new engines on a 737 platform. The two most likely candidates are CFM's Leap-X and Pratt & Whitney's PW1000G. Hamilton sees the timing of the 2013 and 2015 blockpoint changes as a potential indication of time lines for re-engining the 737. The PW1000G is expected to achieve certification in 2013 and the Leap-X in 2016.
To incorporate the the larger diameter PW1000G on a 737 would require a new wing and wingbox, as well as taller landing gear which would be then have to be moved outboard. The Next Generation 737 family is powered exclusively by CFM engines, unlike the A320 with options for both IAE and CFM engines.
The business case for such planning, Hamilton's sources believe, comes from an all-new 737 replacement being pushed out beyond 2020, giving a 737 Re-Generation a solid justification for implementation.
But is there demand for such half-generation leap in technology? Absolutely, says Mike van der Ven, Executive Vice President for Southwest Airlines:
"We can't wait 10 years [for fuel burn improvements]," says Mike van der Ven, executive vice president for Southwest Airlines. "I'm not comfortable waiting a decade for an improved engine. We're very interested in a manufacturer improving engine economics."All of the planning for 737 improvements are paced by two key factors. The first, is the availability of engineering resources which are currently focused on the 787 and 747-8 programs. The second, and perhaps more importantly, is what Airbus chooses to do with its A320 Enhanced as the European airframer flight tests blended winglets and the PW1000G under the wing of an A340.
This suggests Southwest might be interested in a geared turbofan-powered airplane, although Van der Ven also notes that the LEAP-X holds great promise, and will be "very competitive" with the PW1000G.
"From an operator's perspective, you could have a firm choice by 2013 with 10 per cent improvements, and that's meaningful," he says. 2013 is the planned EIS for Pratt & Whitney's PurePower 1000G engine on smaller jets being developed, but within the timeframe the company could develop one for the 737.