Boeing intends to begin design work on further incremental upgrades to its Next Generation 737 in 2012, according to internal company comments made by Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh.

Albaugh was discussing the future of the 737 at an internal question and answer event with employees on 2 February, according to those present, and the discussion occurs as the company continues to evaluate building an all new aircraft or to re-engine its high-volume narrowbody.

Among the new features currently under consideration are significant updates to the 737's flight deck, drawing on technology designed for the 787.

Boeing already plans to introduce a 787-style flight deck with 15.1in displays in its NewGen tanker bid to the US Air Force for the KC-X competition.

While Boeing did not confirm the timing or scope of the design upgrades, the airframer says "incremental improvements are going to happen to the 737 no matter what" not withstanding a decision to re-engine or a build a new airplane.

Boeing is expecting to certify a host of aerodynamic refinements and an updated CFM56-7BE engine by mid-2011, gradually introducing the changes into 737 production by early 2012.

The airframer has been steadily been moving away from the option of re-engining the 737, citing a risk of placing the existing 2,200 aircraft backlog in jeopardy and undercutting the residual value of the current fleet.

Boeing said a report released 2 February from RBC Capital claiming "most" of the top 25 737 customers do not want Boeing to re-engine the narrowbody, was "consistent with what we're hearing from customers".

Company CEO Jim McNerney said on 26 January that the case was growing for an all-new narrowbody to replace the 737, as a final decision on a new jet was expected this year.

"If we could come up with the right airplane in roughly the 2019, 2020 timeframe," says McNerney, "I personally feel that there's a strong argument that the market will wait for us."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news