The 'great engine game' behind new Boeing jet project

Fri Feb 19, 2016 12:33pm EST
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By Tim Hepher

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Aircraft engine makers are placing bets that could reshape their industry for decades as Boeing weighs a novel design for an airplane with 240-250 seats - a neglected area of the jet market.

The plane is designed to fill a slender gap between narrow-body jets, which typically have 150-200 seats, and intercontinental planes with 250 or more. Competition to get onboard would usually be a skirmish for the big engine makers.

But technological bets and partnerships on that plane could reshape the engine industry for the next two decades and influence who has the upper hand when Airbus and Boeing come to renew the main part of their fleets in 15 years.

"This could well determine what happens in the next round of the great engine restructuring game," said aerospace consultant Richard Aboulafia.

Boeing aims to broadly replace its 757 model, a top-end narrow-body jet with a single aisle. The new model would try to rewrite airplane economics by being wide enough for two aisles to seat seven people in each row, but able to produce the skintight margins of a smaller single-aisle six-abreast plane like the workhorse Boeing 737 and Airbus A320.

Airbus calls the project a bluff and says it reflects Boeing's frustration at losing market share to its A321.

One of the designs on Boeing's drawing board is an unusually oval-shaped cross-section, rather than a rounder shape typical of most designs. It strips away unneeded cargo space and would potentially be made of weight-saving carbon-composite, industry sources say.

It would also need a new engine that could cost $5-6 billion to develop.   Continued...

A Boeing 737 MAX sits outside the hangar during a media tour of the Boeing 737 MAX at the Boeing plant in Renton, Washington December 8, 2015. REUTERS/Matt Mills McKnight