As Airbus steps up its evaluation of new technologies to refresh the A320 family with new winglet flight trials, speculation is growing that Boeing is secretly working on a mid-life update for the 737.

With the prospect of any all-new single-aisle replacement from Seattle or Toulouse appearing before the end of the decade looking increasingly unlikely, pressure is growing for the two airframers to develop improvements for their current models.

Airbus's A320 flying testbed took to the air on 17 December equipped with a blended winglet design developed by Aviation Partners (API). Airbus says the aim is to identify both the performance and economic benefits these devices could offer. "In conjunction with follow-up analyses, they will provide data on the overall viability of the devices and help to determine whether API's technology could be considered for an integrated Airbus programme," says Airbus.

Airbus A320 with winglets
 © Airbus

The airframer has also just concluded a flight trial of Pratt & Whitney's GTF geared turbofan demonstrator on its A340-600 test aircraft as it examines the potential to apply the technology to its product line.

Meanwhile, Boeing looks set to introduce a modest upgrade to its 737 family, with a new cabin design developed from the 787 reportedly making its debut on the first of FlyDubai's 50 aircraft towards the end of 2009. This is said to be the first of a series of upgrades the airframer is planning for the twinjet - most likely systems and possibly engines - with block changes provisioning for updates expected in 2013 and 2015.

Boeing declines to comment on any specific 737 changes, but adds that it is constantly working on improving the aircraft for customers.

Any future flightdeck upgrade for the 737 could be linked to the recent cockpit retrofit deal signed by Southwest Airlines with GE Aviation for its 737 Classic fleet. The $40 million upgrade, which comprises a large two-screen flat panel display suite (pictured) mimicking the airline's 737 Next Generation cockpit configuration, will provide required navigation performance capability. It is part of a wider RNP upgrade, for which Boeing is the lead integrator, of the airline's 737 Classics and NGs, and these large format screens could point the way to a cockpit refresh for new-build aircraft.

US Federal Aviation Administration certification of the 737 Classic upgrade is expected in 2010, with deliveries starting in early 2011.

Source: Flight International