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November 3, 2011

Boeing 737 MAX Will Feature Larger Engines, Longer Landing Gear, Fly-By-Wire Spoilers

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Boeing 737-8 MAX seen flying over Mount Rainier

Boeing’s 737 MAX program has inspired many questions since the airframer announced it in August. How big will the engines be? Will they be superior to the competing Airbus A320neo? Where will they be built? Who has ordered them? Boeing officials answered many of these questions—and more—on Thursday.

The cornerstone of the airframer’s update to its best selling 737NG model line will be new 68-inch diameter CFM LEAP-1B engines, seven inches larger than the engines on current 737 aircraft, but 10 inches smaller than those found on Airbus’s new A320neo jets. In a conference call, John Hamilton, Boeing’s 737 Program Chief Engineer, said the new engines will burn 11-12% less fuel than current designs, while providing a 7% operating cost savings compared to the A320neo series.

The larger engines would still fit under the low-profile landing gear of the current 737, Hamilton said, but a slight raise of the nose gear would allow the engine to be set slightly forward, which will allow “better optimization” and improved clearance for the thrust reversers. Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh earlier estimated a 6-8 inch nose gear lengthening, though Hamilton said the final design might be smaller than that. It would not be enough to affect flight operations, such as the placement of jetways. The new gear would require a larger housing in the nose when retracted, which could be found by relocating certain components to other parts of the plane, Hamilton said.

Further major changes would include a fly-by-wire spoiler system, which would save weight, as well as a more aerodynamic tail cone design. Other than that, however, Boeing engineers will be trying to keep the MAX as similar as possible to current models to minimize changes both to Boeing manufacturing processes and to customers’ airline operations. Fuselage size and seating capacity for the 737-7 MAX, -8 MAX and -9 MAX will be identical to the current -700, -800 and -900 models, respectively.

Commitments for 600 new 737 MAX aircraft have been received from eight customers, Boeing said. American Airlines accounts for a third of those commitments, after its July announcement of a plan to buy 200 of the re-engined jets before Boeing had even publicly offered them for sale. Firm orders from American and the other customers will likely arrive after the final design is completed in 2012.

Hamilton said he did not have a break down of specific variants requested by customers, but he did say he expected the -8 MAXe

First flight is planned for 2016, with deliveries beginning in 2017. Albaugh is pushing for a faster turnaround time, which could move those dates “to the left,” Hamilton said. When asked by a reporter about a production site for the new aircraft, Hamilton said he expected that announcement to be made in mid-2012.

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