Production of the Boeing 737 is set to emulate the previously highest-ever rate of 21 aircraft a month by the end of this year, with Boeing having announced a further boost in production of the twinjet.

The monthly rate is set to reach the new peak during the fourth quarter of 1997. An increase to a maximum of 17 a month had previously been planned. If it is maintained, the new rate will enable at least 250 737s to be delivered in 1998 - more than the entire Boeing production tally in 1996. The 21 aircraft a month rate is the maximum ever achieved on the 737 programme, which last ran at this rate in September 1992.

Initially, assembly of the next- generation models will be undertaken on one of the two 737 lines at Renton, with the other line dedicated to the current -300/400/500 models. By the end of 1998, Boeing is expecting to have moved current model 737 assembly into the 757 hall next door, enabling production of the next-generation models to be boosted by taking over both lines in the 737 hall. This will also enable the entire 737 rate to be further increased if necessary.

Boeing says that it plans to continue production of the current models "-for as long as we are selling them", although the allocation of one of the two 757 lines for current 737 model assembly could hinder any future large production-rate boosts on the 757. The company is, however, considering the relocation of all, or part, of the 757 assembly line (Flight International, 1-7 January, P22).

Boeing has cut production cycle time to six months on its narrowbodied aircraft and is able to offer customers the opportunity to specify the variant required down to a minimum of ten months before aircraft delivery.

Boeing expects to capture 80% of the total market in which it competes with its 737-600/700/800 model, while Airbus is predicting that it will win around half of the orders in the A320/737 category over the next 20 years.

Boeing Commercial Airplane president Ron Woodard says that the biggest seller among the new models will be the larger -800 model, representing around 40% of all the new aircraft sold. The smaller -700 and -600 variants will account for 35% and 25%.

Flight-testing of the new model will kick off in February, with the first flight of the 737-700. Boeing will use a total of four 737-700s, three -800s and three -600s in the entire flight-test programme.

Source: Flight International