Boeing’s 737 MAX woes were largely caused by the manufacturer attempting to add too much new tech to a very old airframe. Did Boeing make a mistake when it opted to develop the MAX rather than work on a clean sheet design? Perhaps. But the good news is that the US planemaker is likely to have a brand new short-haul aircraft ready to go within the next decade.
A replacement for the 737 MAX
Some might say that a clean sheet design to replace the MAX cannot come soon enough. But with so much invested in the type, it’s likely we’ll see the popular narrowbody offered for sale for some time to come yet. But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Quite some time ago, Boeing sketched out a design for a new narrowbody aircraft to completely replace the 737 product line. At the time, Reuters reported that this new aircraft was being targeted for entry into service by 2030 at the latest. Chief Executive Officer at the time, Jim McNerney, told the publication,
“By 2030 we will have a new airplane … there’s a good chance it will be a composite airplane. It will be slightly bigger, there will be new engines. The current look of the planes (shape) won’t change dramatically.”
In fact, Boeing had patented a design for the 737 replacement as long ago as 2009. In 2011, it outlined plans for this new aircraft and earmarked delivery for 2020. However, later the same year Boeing announced the 737 MAX as a re-engined version of the 737 NG, putting plans for a clean sheet replacement on the back burner.
It is thought that this change of direction was in response to Airbus’ introduction of the neo version of its own narrowbody A320 product line. At the time, both companies were clear that they would not aim for a complete redesign much before 2030. Nevertheless, the plans still exist, and can give us some insight into the future of short-haul flying.
What do we know about the new 737 so far?
The patent for the new 737 was submitted back in 2009, so we can expect some modifications to be made from the original design type. However, the patent does give us some strong clues as to how Boeing plans to proceed with a successor to the 737.
The most notable inclusion in the patent is that the aircraft will feature a ‘near elliptical’ cross-section, as opposed to the circular cross-section we are used to today. Essentially, it would be wider than it is tall. This would provide a little more space internally, allowing for a twin-aisle design.
For airlines like Ryanair and Southwest who strive for the shortest turnaround times possible, this would be a boon. A twin-aisle aircraft is far quicker to board and deplane, and could lead to more daily flights as a result.
Another key factor is the construction of the aircraft itself. The title of the patent is “Weight-Optimizing Internally Pressurized Composite-Body Aircraft Fuselages Having Near-Elliptical Cross Sections”. So, aside from the elliptical issue, we’ve got plans for a composite body construction, making the aircraft far more lightweight than the current product line, bringing with it all the fuel burn improvements you would expect.
Everything suggests that 2030 is the crunch date for a 737 replacement. However, with the NMA likely shelved and the MAX facing an uphill battle to claw back its reputation, perhaps we’ll see some movement on this new aircraft concept sooner rather than later.