This is the first in a three part series on the development of Boeing's all-new jetliner. Part one examines market evaluations and the configuration and materials selection process. Tuesday's Part Two will explore the aircraft's systems, propulsion and performance and Wednesday's Part Three will look at the future production system and business model of the new jet.Until now, few answers about Boeing's next aircraft have been available and while the majority of its attributes have yet to be determined - including its launch - the all-new jet will be one aircraft, not two, and whose configuration will match the familiar tube and wing that defines commercial air transport today.
In recent months, Boeing has been quietly polling the worlds most influential airlines, offering them a veritable "grab-bag" of technologies, say industry officials, with the goal of identifying their future needs for an all new jet that is intended to first see revenue service in 2019 or 2020.
The task Boeing is now preparing itself to undertake - the development of the airframer's next generation narrowbody - is now in the early planning phases. By the Paris Air Show in June, Boeing will announce the direction its intends to advance, deciding between an all-new design or a re-engined 737.
If Boeing can replicate the design resiliency of the original 1967 737-100 and -200, then "getting it right" now means laying the groundwork for an aircraft that will evolve well into the latter half of the 21st century. Boeing has succeeded in evolving the 737, making incremental improvements to the aircraft over time, without having to make the multi-billion dollar investment to fully replace the narrowbody, all while maintaining its existing industrial footprint for ever increasing production.
Despite that longevity, what the market doesn't appear to want, says Mike Bair, vice president of Advanced 737 Product Development, is a re-engined 737: "I kind of characterize it as more underwhelmed than overwhelmed and almost all of them want to know what more we can do with a new airplane, so that's kind of where our focus is right now."
Though standing in the path of the all-new aircraft are significant unanswered questions about the commercial success of the 787 and what technology from its long-range twin can be used in a smaller platform. In charge of this effort is Bair, who first must answer the question from which all other answers will be yielded: What does the market want?