Dominic Gates of The Seattle Times has this story in which he has the following observation:
Wyse revealed that Boeing, through structural efficiencies, has also beefed up the allowed maximum take-off weights for the three MAX variants.
Each is 5,000 to 7,000 lbs heavier than the maximum take-off weights of the current 737s.
That means each 737 MAX model, even though heavier than the corresponding current model of the 737NG, can either carry a heavier payload or carry more fuel and so fly farther.
This is good. But we’re hearing from airlines that runway performance may be worse than the 737NG. The airplane is heavier but the wing is the same and the engine thrust is still somewhat of a mystery. CFM International, maker of the LEAP-1B that will power the MAX, lists thrust on its website of 20,000-28,000 lbs without identifying the sub-types and thrust to which the engines will be applied.
These thrust ratings are similar to those now on the NG, rather than being increased to compensate for the increased weight.
One airline tells us that runway performance for the -8 MAX and -9 MAX is longer than the -800 and -900. (The airline is not considering the -7 MAX and doesn’t have the -700.) This, the airline tells us, makes the airplanes problematic at some airports it serves.
This illustrates the dilemma Boeing and CFM have with the physically-constrained 737. CFM could build any engine it wants that would get the job done. It has, after all, two LEAP engines in development for the COMAC C919 and the Airbus A320neo. But the 737 presents special challenges and CFM is constrained unless Boeing lifts the entire airplane with new main gear. But this would mean a new wing box and associated structural changes, adding significantly to the cost. And Boeing won’t to this.
There’s still a lot about MAX we don’t know. And many customers are also waiting for the information.
The Farnborough Air Show isn’t just about orders, though these get all the sex and headlines.
While we weren’t at the show, we had a telephone interview with a company called Constellium, previously known as Alcan. Constellium spoke at the February conference of the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance, with which we are involved. We were particularly interested in talking with Constellium because it is a major supplier of Aluminum-Lithium, an alternative material to standard aluminum and a competing material to composites.
Constellium’s Al-Li combines other processes, including a design for recycling, and is named AirWare. Airbus, Boeing and Bombardier are among their key customers, and it is Constellium that is providing the materials for the CSeries. It’s also a supplier on the Airbus A350 (internal components, not the fuselage).
As Airbus and Boeing looked at the A320neo and 737 MAX, and as Boeing is looking at the 777X, we asked them about the prospect of using Al-Li. This is lighter than standard aluminum, more durable, less susceptible to corrosion and enabled 12 years between major maintenance overhauls compared with the 6-8 years now.
But Al-Li is more difficult to work with than standard aluminum. Boeing’s Mike Bair told us in an interview that Boeing considered Al-Li back in the 1990s when designing the 777 but it was too difficult and costly to manufacture. Since then, he praised the producers for strides. There are mixed reports what material will be used for the 777X fuselage: standard metal or Al-Li. The Seattle Times reported the airplane will have Al-Li. We’ve been told it won’t. But with the airplane still months and perhaps a year from launch, there is plenty of time to decide.
Airbus, in an interview at the Paris Air Show last year, said it was evaluating Al-Li for the A320neo. The A320ceo is heavier than the competing Boeing 737 and the re-engine adds about 4,000 lbs. Using Al-Li would mitigate some of this weight. We haven’t heard if Airbus might go ahead with Al-Li, but we’re leaning toward concluding that it won’t.
Boeing told us it will not switch to Al-Li for the MAX because the manufacturing process is just enough different that it would add complexity and cost to the current tooling and procedures.
Al-Li vs composites is a competition that will likely be fierce when it comes time for Airbus and Boeing to design the next clean-sheet airplanes, presumed to be the New Small Airplane, or replacement for the current 737/A320 class. (Boeing may have a new clean-sheet for the 757 class; it has a New Airplane Study underway for this, but the market may be too narrow when one considers the 737-9 MAX and A321neo will do 95% of what a 757 can do.)
Composites, selected for the 787 and A350 XWB fuselages and wings, offer advantages over standard metal fuselages that have been well documented and need not be repeated here. But Airbus and Boeing question the efficiency and benefits of down-scaling composites to 737/A320 category airplanes. Boeing apparently became convinced: Jim Albaugh, former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said the New Small Airplane would have been composite, but the ability to produce it at a rate of 60 per month remained a challenge. Boeing went with the MAX instead.
Vistagy, a composite manufacturer near Boston, told us nearly two years ago, that the down-scaling challenges were met and that production rates were the issue. Autoclaves are very costly and so is the manufacturing process. There is actually less industrial waste than traditional aluminum manufacturing, but the materials are generally more hazardous—though there have been strides on this score.
This is the background that intrigued us when we had the opportunity to speak with Constellium’s Simon Laddychuk, VP of Manufacturing Global Aerospace and Director of Technology. Read more…
Update, 8:30 PDT: If anyone thought Airbus’ John Leahy doesn’t have some orders up his sleeve, get a gander at this from Reuters:
Airbus sales chief John Leahy was in typically combative and upbeat form: “The party’s over?. Why, it’s only the second day of the show, for heavens’ sake,” he said of suggestions orders were drying up. “We’ll have some important announcements.
Another reason we’re glad we didn’t waste our time and money going this year: a dearth of activity.
- Bombardier: Air Baltic signs LOI fo 10+10 CS300s, replacing its Boeing 737 Classic fleet. Delivery from 1Q15. This delivery date is interesting; BBD had said the line was sold out to 2016.
- Airbus: Cathay Pacific ordered 10 A350-1000s and converted 16 A350-900s to -1000s. It still has 20 A350-900s on order from a previous deal. Airbus also booked one order for an A319/Sharklets from Drukair of Bhutan.
- Boeing: Widely anticipated, GECAS announced that it is committed to 75 737-8 MAXs plus 25 -800s. The deal has to be confirmed into an order. This sort of falls into the so-what category; GECAS was one of the 1,000 “orders and commitments” and this is simply a public announcement of its previous “commitment.” This is not a firm order. Since sister company CFM makes the engines, a deal from GECAS was an eventual certainty. ALAFCO announced a “commitment” to 20 MAX 8s. We believe this is a new commitment, not part of the previously announced 1,000, but we’re not sure. It appears so since Boeing now lists the customers at 17.
- Pratt & Whitney: BOC Aviation selected the IAE V2500 for more A320 family members. JetStar selected the IAE V2500 for 32 A320s.
- Superjet: Interjet orders fives more SSJ100s.
Perhaps the biggest news: Boeing finally has released the weights and ranges of the MAX. From the Boeing press release:
Comparative* maximum take off weights and range limits for the Next-Generation 737 and 737 MAX:
|MTOW (lb)||Range (nmi)||Two-class seating|
|737 MAX 7||159,400||3,800||126|
|737 MAX 8||181,200||3,620||162|
|737 MAX 9||194,700||3,595||180|
*Next-Generation 737 values are calculated with Blended Winglets. Typical mission rules, two-class seating applies.