BOEING AND General Electric have formed a joint venture, Boeing Business Jets, to offer a hybrid corporate-jet version of the new-generation 737 for long distance, non-stop journeys of more than 11,100km (6,000nm).

The aircraft will be certificated at the end of 1998 as a 737-700 high-gross-weight derivative, but will combine the fuselage of the -700 with the strengthened undercarriage and wing of the larger -800.

Additional fuel tanks will also be fitted to the larger wing of the new-generation aircraft, which is already significantly bigger than the current aircraft. The extra fuel tanks will augment two main tanks each holding almost 4,000kg, plus the centre tank, which has room for more than 13,100kg.

The concept of the corporate new-generation 737 was born when GE began enquiries for its own use. The aircraft has now been formally launched with an order for two from the engine maker. The 737s will be delivered ETOPS (extended range twin operations) capable in late 1998 and 1999.

The venture creates a competitor to the new generation of ultra-long range business jets, the Bombardier Global Express and the Gulfstream V.

Boeing president, Phil Condit believes that the 737, priced at around $35 million depending on interior and equipment options, will go further than simply competing with the established corporate-jet makers by opening up a new, undeveloped market niche. "We think we're opening up a new dimension of the market," he says.

Condit estimates the potential market could be "in excess of ten aircraft per year, or it could be considerably more than that", noting that the long-range 737 could be offered for military VIP and other transport roles.

Boeing is considering offering the aircraft to the US military as a replacement for aircraft such as the McDonnell Douglas C-9, T-43 and Gulfstream series.

GE chairman and chief executive, John Welch says: "We don't know exactly how big this market will be, but we see it as potentially huge." The corporate 737 will have up to three times the floor space of the nearest comparable corporate jet, Welch adds: "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to make this call."

The joint venture, will be led by Borge Boeskov, vice president of product strategy at Boeing. The CFM56-7B-powered aircraft will cruise at speeds up to Mach 0.82 and reach altitudes of 41,000ft (12,500m) or higher. Long-range cruise for maximum range would be at Mach 0.8.

Source: Flight International