Boeing bears down on 737 fuel-savings target

Wed Apr 11, 2012 4:15pm EDT
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By Kyle Peterson

(Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) on Wednesday put some finishing touches on a make-over of its popular 737 aircraft as the U.S. planemaker battles with European arch-rival Airbus EAD.PA to deliver fuel savings to airlines hammered by near-record oil prices.

The company unveiled several design choices meant to lower weight and wind-resistance for its upcoming 737 MAX. The planemaker said it had decided on an 8-inch nose gear extension to give ground clearance for a larger engine fan.

The world's largest planemakers are revamping their workhorse models with bigger engines to offer double-digit percentage fuel savings in one of the most competitive market battles of the last two decades, affecting a vital source of cash generation at both companies.

"My feeling about it is what they're saying is plausible. And I'll just wait until we see the results," said Hans Weber, president of technology management consultancy Tecop International.

More decisions about the design are expected, and Boeing said on Wednesday that it would have a firm configuration for the plane next year.

Last year, Boeing unveiled plans to put new engines in its existing 737 design, providing fuel savings of up to 12 percent over the current 737. Boeing named the aircraft the MAX and said it would enter service in 2017.

Weber said the announcements shed light on the MAX program and gave clarity to the design. He said he did not expect the decisions to add to the undisclosed cost of the MAX program.

In its 40-year history, the Boeing 737 has become the world's most-sold aircraft and the backbone of airline fleets worldwide. But Boeing has taken several months to finalize the design of the upgraded 737 MAX while juggling engineering considerations, market opportunities and costs.   Continued...

A Southwest Airlines 737-700 takes off from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California April 4, 2011. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni