One of the more prevalent unsolved mysteries over the past couple of years has been whether Boeing would ultimately replace the 737 with an all-new design, or offer a re-engined version.
Even as recently at this past summer's Paris Air Show, Jim Albaugh, President and CEO, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, gave little in definitive clues, implying that the final decision could go either way.
"Re-engining the Next-Generation 737 is technically viable and a real option for us," he said. "What we are working on now is whether that's a good enough answer for the next decades in light of the rising cost of fuel and emerging environmental regulations."
That said, Albaugh also made it clear that by improving engines as well as addressing other technologies such as aerodynamics, Boeing could deliver a new airplane that would be 20% more fuel efficient.
"When our competitor says they don't have the technology for a new small airplane until 2030 or even 2035, we believe them," he said. "We do have the technology as a result of developing the 787."
Just a couple of months later, it appears to be a closed case, with Boeing officially announcing the 737 MAX, the name of the new engine variant of the Next-Generation 737.
According to Nicole Piasecki, Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Integration, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, the new family of aircraft—737 MAX 7, 737 MAX 8, and 737 MAX 9—is called MAX "because it optimizes everything we and our customers have learned about designing, building, maintaining, and operating" a single-aisle airplane.
The new-engine variant will have 10 to 12% lower fuel burn than current 737s and a 7% operating cost advantage over "future competing airplanes" as a result of optimized CFM International LEAP-1B engines, more efficient structural design, lower maintenance requirements, and improved reliability, with Boeing saying the aircraft will build upon the Next-Generation 737's 99.7% on-time departure rate.
The airplane will have the capacity for increased range while providing better fuel efficiency than the current 737. Boeing says that when compared to a fleet of 100 of today's most fuel-efficient airplanes, this new model will emit 277,000 fewer tons of CO2 and save nearly 175 million lb of fuel per year, which translates into $85 million in cost savings.
In all, the airplane's fuel burn is expected to be 16% lower than the Airbus A320 and 4% lower than the A320neo.
One of the more identifiable carryovers from the 787 program is expected to be the new 737 Boeing Sky Interior, described by Boeing as offering more spacious cabin headroom, overhead bins that disappear into the ceiling yet carry more bags, and LED lighting "that brings any color into the cabin."
Earlier this month, Boeing released more details about the 737 MAX program, specifically the engine, saying that it has selected a 68-in fan diameter that "will provide the lowest fuel burn and operating costs in the single-aisle market."
The program is on schedule with internal configuration milestones of the new jet, with a continued focus on engagement with customers and partners to optimize all parts of the engine core architecture. Firm configuration for the airplane is scheduled for 2013. First flight for the 737 MAX is scheduled in 2016 with deliveries to customers beginning in 2017. Already, Boeing has received more than 600 order commitments to date from eight airlines.
Boeing forecasts global demand for more than 23,000 airplanes in the 737's market segment over the next 20 years at a value of nearly $2 trillion.