Boeing gauges possible modifications for 737 re-engine

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Details are emerging about possible structural modifications that could be introduced if Boeing decides to re-engine its Next Generation 737.

During an interview with ATI and Flightglobal at the Istat conference in Orlando, Florida, Boeing Commercial Airplanes VP of marketing Randy Tinseth explained, "We've talked in moderate detail about what has to be done. What we think we're going to have do is we'd have to have a new pylon, a new nacelle, strengthening of the wing and potential strengthening of the wingbox."

Tinseth explains that Boeing "doesn't really want to touch the main landing gear and we don't have to. We've looked a little bit around maybe some minor modifications around the nose landing gear, still yet to be determined."

He also explains that when a new powerplant is installed on the airframe, some minor additions are necessary to the avionics.

"What we have to do between now and the time we make a decision is to keep diving deep on the technical side and make sure that we're absolutely confident that we'll be able to go forward from a technical perspective," says Tinseth. "We haven't seen any show stoppers yet."

Taking time to address some theories that re-engined offerings from Boeing and Airbus are stop-gap measures until a new narrowbody is introduced Tinseth says: "Let's take a step back. We've looked at what it would take to replace today's 737 for a long time now, and we know it is all about significant improvements in efficiency, maybe 15% to 20%."

Tinseth says the wish list by customers includes up to a 30% improvement in airframe maintenance costs that could possibly incorporate composite technology from the 787, a wider cross section and a lower price.

"They're asking for everything as you might envision customers will do," says Tinseth. "So we have had a really difficult time figuring out the technology package we'd have to have to make that all happen, and frankly, if you make the decision to re-engine the aircraft, you raise that bar even higher."

That scenario makes re-engining far from an interim solution, says Tinseth. "If you raise the bar higher then you really have to continue to have a robust technology plan in place to someday replace the aircraft, but it gets harder."

Declining to supply specifics regarding Boeing's evaluations of the front runners to supply re-engined powerplants, CFM with its Leap X engine and Pratt & Whitney with the PW1000G geared turbofan, Tinseth says: "I don't want to give a scorecard. But I will say we're involved with all the engine manufacturers really trying to understand the technical feasibility of the benefits to understand the benefits those engines will provide."

However, Tinseth says what is interesting about the current dynamic is that "we're in a position today that I don't think we envisioned ourselves in five years ago, with the run up in fuel price, the engine manufacturers have acted very quickly to respond to that, and they've brought a number of very compelling solutions to the market."

He believes as some of those solutions develop they become "very intriguing when you can re-engine an airplane and provide up to a 15% fuel burn improvement".

Still, Tinseth says Boeing is going to take the time to make the right decision about re-engining the 737.

However, he admits: "These engines are available, and we have a lot of new competitors coming to the market with those engines, so it is changing the competitive landscape."

Tinseth says he's not shocked by new competitors entering the single-aisle market. "I'm not surprised by what the Japanese are doing, or what the Chinese are doing, or what the Russians are doing in terms of entering that market. It's a big market place - 19,000 airplanes over the next 20 years. I fully expect one or more of those new entrants will be successful."