Boeing Partners With Alaska Airlines For Latest ecoDemonstrator

Boeing has revealed the latest chapter in its ecoDemonstrator program, running since 2012. The American manufacturer is partnering with Alaska Airlines to test roughly 20 new technologies on a Boeing 737 MAX 9 bound for the airline. Last year Boeing partnered with Etihad using a 787-10 Dreamliner as part of the program.

Boeing, Alaska Airlines, ecoDemonstrator
Alaska Airlines will play a vital role in the latest round of Boeing ecoDemonstrator tests. Photo: Boeing

Aircraft manufacturers are constantly testing new initiatives to make flying safer, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly. While each manufacturer has its own way of testing ideas, since 2012, Boeing has been using brand new aircraft before delivery. Now, a 737 MAX 9 bound for Alaska Airlines is set to become part of the program.

What will Boeing test?

Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator test flights are typically aimed at making flying better for passengers, airlines, and the environment. This latest round of tests will pay a particular focus on the safety and sustainability of air travel. According to Boeing, at least four new ideas have already been planned for the test flights, with around 20 targetted in total. The confirmed technologies are,

  • A new substance to extinguish fires that is less harmful to the ozone layer.
  • Measuring greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere
  • A new engine nacelle lining to reduce engine noise
  • Using leftover material from building 777X wings to create cabin sidewall panels
Boeing, 787, ecoDemonstrator
An Etihad Boeing 787-10 was used in the last round of tests. Photo: Paul Weatherman via Boeing

Once the tests are completed, Boeing will turn the aircraft into a regular 737 MAX, with Alaska Airlines theoretically unable to tell it had been used for tests. Commenting on the latest round of tests, Diana Birkett Rakow, Alaska Airlines’ vice president, public affairs and sustainability, said,

“Alaska Airlines flies to some of the most beautiful and geographically diverse regions in the world and we are committed to finding ways to reduce climate impacts across our network. This work with Boeing to accelerate innovation on the ecoDemonstrator program enables us to contribute to a more sustainable future for our global community.”

Previous ecoDemonstrator programs

The Boeing ecoDemonstrator program has been ongoing since 2012. You can read an in-depth summary of the program’s history here. The most recent chapter in the program used a 787-10 Dreamliner bound for Etihad. One of the significant breakthroughs that aircraft had looked at was reducing the noise of landing gear on approach to airports.

Boeing, Alaska Airlines, ecoDemonstrator
The 737 MAX’s split wingtip came from the ecoDemonstrator program. Photo: Boeing

Boeing has gone on to use many technologies that have come from the ecoDemonstrator program. The most well-known of these is arguably the split wingtips today found on every 737 MAX delivered by the airline.

Meanwhile, the 777X program uses cameras trialed in the program to avoid obstacle collisions on the ground. Earlier this week, an American Airlines Boeing 737 might have wished to have such cameras onboard.

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Other airlines’ attempts

As mentioned above, one of the experiments that will be completed by the aircraft is measuring greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. Boeing isn’t alone in looking into this. Earlier this year, Lufthansa revealed that it was turning an Airbus A350 into an airborne laboratory to take such measurements while flying around the world in regular service.

A Lufthansa Airbus A350 being marshalled in Malta
Lufthansa is turning one of its Airbus A350 aircraft into a flying laboratory. Photo: Lufthansa

By using aircraft to take atmospheric measurements, researchers bridge the gap between ground stations and satellites with aircraft that are already flying through the skies anyway.

What do you make of the latest chapter in the Boeing ecoDemonstrator program? Let us know what you think and why in the comments below!