Boeing Considers 737 Successor

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It could be an engine upgrade, a design overhaul or a completely new aircraft, but Boeing CEO Jim Albaugh has publicly stated his company will decide the future of its most popular airliner, the 737, "within the next several months." Refitting the jet with more efficient engines may be a front-running idea for airlines interested in an upgrade with a more predictable timetable. Buyers' initial response was cool to potential alternatives like Bombardier's 145-passenger CSeries jet earlier this year, but competition may heat up with demand. "We need a more fuel-efficient, cost-effective airplane," Gary Kelly, Chief Executive of Southwest Airlines, told Dow Jones Newswires. "If Boeing doesn't have a solution, we will have to think about that." Boeing has told Kelly it will deliver a decision on the 737 by year-end. It also may have tipped its hand when it comes to the likelihood of some theoretical upgrades like fly-by-wire controls.

The Seattle Post Intelligencer's aerospace blog reported an exchange with 737 chief project engineer John Hamilton. Asked about the possibility of fly-by-wire, Hamilton said they'd considered it for the 737 NG but the NG flies at 99.8 percent dispatch reliability. Fly-by-wire, said Hamilton, adds a lot of weight to the airplane and it doesn't "really buy a whole lot." Boeing currently builds about 31 of its 737s each month and, according to the program's vice president and general manager, the company could raise production to 42 per month by 2013. Back in 2003, Boeing said there were some 4,000 737s in service worldwide, with one departing from an airport every 5.3 seconds.