Boeing reveals 737 NG plus

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As Boeing nears the conclusion of evaluating its options for the future of its narrowbody line, one of the company's top executives says an incrementally upgraded 737 "Next Generation Plus", without a new engine, may provide a bridge to a cleansheet replacement in the 2020s.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO, Jim Albaugh, discussed the 737 Next Generation Plus or 737NG+ at an internal company webcast 7 September at Boeing's Renton, Washington facility.

The NG+, while lacking specifics, would incrementally improve the 737 family without the significant investment of a new powerplant, say those familiar with his comments.

Any improvements for the 737NG+ would be incorporated beyond the already-announced Sky Interior, aerodynamic improvements and CFM56-7BE engine planned for introduction between October 2010 and mid-2011, which provided a combined 2.5% improvement in fuel burn.

As it looks to its chief rival, Albaugh contends that the improvement in direct operating cost yielded for a re-engined A320 would be limited to just 3-4%, bringing it in line with today's 737.

Boeing's marketing of the 737 has maintained that the twin jet holds an overall advantage over its European competitor. With this logic, the sources add, Albaugh contends a 737NG+ would sell well against a re-engined A320, establishing a bridge to the all-new Boeing narrowbody in the 2020s.

Boeing declined to comment on Albaugh's remarks on the 737NG+, saying only the evaluation of potential aircraft improvements - including a new engine - are still ongoing.

Airbus, which is believed to be nearing an announcement on a re-engined A320 along with partners, CFM and Pratt & Whitney and potentially Rolls-Royce in the form of the International Aero Engines consortium, contend the improvement yielded by new engines would be in the 13-14% range, after factoring in the 1-2% lost on airframe modifications, far beyond the number touted by Albaugh.

Additionally, it is not clear what assumptions were supporting Albaugh's claim, nor what portion of any potential improvement was eaten up by the $7 to $8 million price premium the new engine option would bring.

While its final decision has yet to be made, Boeing's chief financial officer recently poured cold water on the prospect of new engines on today's 737 airframe.

When you add the additional weight associated with the change in the design of the airplane and you add the cost, it looks more like a single-digit improvement," says James Bell. "We don't believe that is something that our customers are interested in, in going through a re-engine and having a mixed fleet for just that minimal improvement in performance."