Boeing expects to deliver 737 replacement by 2015

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Boeing expects to bring its long-awaited 737 replacement to the market by 2015, but is refusing to be pressured into an early launch decision by environmentally conscious airlines or any competitive move by rival Airbus.

"I'm thinking we are probably seven to eight years away from when we replace [the 737]," says Boeing Commercial Airplanes president Scott Carson.

"We continue to look at the state of technology and what requirements there are in the airline industry. We suspect that the technology required to meet those designs is still a little way in front of us," he adds.

Alongside advanced airframe materials and systems, engine technology will be key to enabling Boeing to deliver the minimum 15% reduction in direct operating costs (DOC) compared with the 737, which Carson says is required to justify launching an all-new aircraft.

The "big three" engine manufacturers - General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce - are pursuing very different engine architectures to deliver the required efficiencies. P&W favours a geared-fan concept, for example, while R-R is considering offering a Trent-style, three-shaft design.

"We are delighted with what we are seeing," says Carson. "It's a different technology from each manufacturer. We continue to press all three in terms of how quickly they bring that technology into the market place."

Launching a replacement for the 737 with technology available now would yield direct operating cost savings of only around 10%, and "we would end up doing another aircraft right behind, which would be very expensive", says Carson.

Henry Hubschman, president of lessor GE Commercial Aviation Services, who joined Carson on the first day of the show to announce an order for an additional six 777 Freighters ahead of signing a deal for another 60 Airbus A320s, also does not want Boeing to rush into a 737 replacement decision.

"I think the issue is that every customer is insistent that the aircraft has certain characteristics in terms of operating savings," he says. "It is more important to get the DOCs [down] than get the aircraft into their hands one or two years earlier."

Boeing is unconcerned about the possibility of rival Airbus getting to market first with a replacement for its A320. "I would not want to be first if I had to do it with today's technology," says Carson. "De facto, we've decided that if [Airbus] goes first, we're okay with that."

In contrast, Airbus chief operating officer - customers, John Leahy, says Airbus will act immediately if Boeing moves first: "Airbus will adapt our strategy [for new single aisle] if Boeing takes the initiative."

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