The first 737 Max 8 rolls out of its paint hangar in Renton, Washington.
(Photo - Boeing)
Nineteen years to the day since the last rollout from its factory in Renton, Washington, Boeing Tuesday introduced its 737 Max 8, a new take on what has become the manufacturer’s most ubiquitous airframe and a redemption of sorts after rocky introduction of the 787 Dreamliner in 2007.
The 737 Max is the latest iteration of an aircraft first introduced in 1966. The difference between the first Boeing 737 and the first 737 Max, however, is stark. Boeing 737 Max vice president and general manager Keith Leverkuhn pointed to aircraft 1A002, the second Max still on the assembly line in Renton, noting that virtually all the components below the wing differ from those on the current models still in production a few feet away.
Along with major avionics upgrades, the Max features new powerplants built by CFM, a joint venture between General Electric and France’s Snecma. Leverkuhn said the new engines, together with design changes, will deliver a 14-percent increase in per-passenger fuel efficiency over current technology. At least one customer, Ryanair, said Boeing has promised it an improvement of no less than 16 percent per seat.
But whether or not the 737 Max can counter the surge in orders currently enjoyed by Boeing’s chief rival, Airbus, remains an open question. The European airplane manufacturer projects it will hold some 60 percent of the total volume of orders for new narrowbodies by the end of the year. Leverkuhn insisted Boeing will soon reach parity again.
“Don’t forget that the Airbus A320neo launched 18 months ahead of the Max,” he told reporters gathered on the floor of the company’s Renton assembly building. “They gained orders early. But by the time we launched, we’re very comfortable with the way the market is settling… It’s about 50-50.”
Tuesday’s rollout proved deliberately low-key compared with the fanfare that surrounded the 787’s debut eight years ago. Then, video feeds carried the ceremony to 40 countries. A live band banged away and former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw served as master of ceremonies.
But the airplane on display didn’t yet carry some major systems and temporary fasteners held together several parts. After several delays due to parts shortages, supply chain interruptions, software glitches and incomplete or inaccurate supplier documentation, the airplane flew for the first time in December 2009, some two and a half years after its rollout.
Leverkuhn made it clear Boeing has changed its approach since then.
“We’re depending on something we call ‘right at first flight,’” he said. “That’s the idea of making sure that the systems are put together in a way that we know not only how they’ll function, but also just how reliable they’re going to be.”
Leverkuhn said the Max remains on schedule for first flight early next year. Certification of the new engines should come “within weeks” after that, he predicted. He promised the Max would undergo rigorous, “first-of-its-kind” testing that will closely simulate the way the airlines use the aircraft, ensuring its readiness for first delivery in 2017.
“A new airplane is like a comet sighting,” Leverkuhn said. “It’s very rare and it’s a very big deal. This is an exciting day.”
(Pete Combs - AINOnline Aviation News)