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The race is on at Farnborough Air Show; Boeing takes the lead with $7 billion order

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on July 9, 2012 at 7:19 am |
July 9, 2012 10:52 am

The annual airliner sales race is out of the starting gate today at England’s Farnborough Air Show.

Boeing jumped into the lead with a $7.2-billion order by Los Angeles-based Air Lease for 60 737 Max 8 and 15 737 Max 9 aircraft. The leasing company also acquired rights to order 25 more of the aircraft.

Air Lease 737 Max
Air Lease 737 Max

The order was the first leasing company order for the latest generation of Boeing 737 single-aisle aircraft.

Boeing, with about 600 orders for the 737 Max, lags Airbus in the overall race for single-aisle new generation sales. Airbus has sold more than 1,200 of its rival A320neo aircraft. But Airbus had a nearly 9-month head start on Boeing in the single-aisle contest.

Boeing did not officially launched the updated version of the 737 until last fall after flirting with the idea of building an all-new single-aisle aircraft instead.

“The 737 MAX is an excellent addition to our portfolio and the ideal complement to our growing fleet of Next-Generation 737-800s,” said Steven Udvar-Hazy, chairman and CEO of Air Lease. “The 737 MAX represents a step-change improvement that our airline clients need to compete in the future.”

The 737 Max aircraft features more efficient engines, aerodynamic improvements and modified wingtip winglets to improve fuel economy.

The 737 Max will be built on a new assembly line at Boeing’s Renton plant.

Air Lease in early June confirmed an order for 36 Airbus A320neos and A321neos.

Meanwhile at the show, Boeing’s new commercial airplanes chief, Ray Conner, told reporters the company is still committed to two new wide-bodied aircraft programs, but it wants to take more time to talk with customers before seeking the final go-ahead from Boeing’s board.

Those two aircraft programs are a further stretch of the 787 Dreamliner called the 787-10 that will carry about 40 more passengers than the next largest version, the 787-9.

The 787-10 will have a non-stop range of about 7,800 miles and carry 330 passengers in a normal mixed-class seating configuration. The mid-sized version of the Dreamliner, the 787-9, has a range of about 9,700 miles and will carry about 290 passengers.

Boeing claims the 787 offers customers about a 20-plus percent fuel-cost advantage over Airbus’s similar-sized plane, the A330.

Meanwhile, Airbus announced that it will be offering a higher gross weight version of the A330. That feature will allow the aircraft to fly about 450 more miles without refueling and make it more competitive with Boeing’s 777 and 787.

The second new wide-bodied program Boeing is planning is a major update of its popular 777 twin-jet. That updated model line will be called the 777X.

Conner’s predecessor, Jim Albaugh, said he expected the 777X program would go to the Boeing board by the end of the year for a move-ahead decision. Conner didn’t commit to that timetable, but said the decision would be made when the time was right.

The 777X will likely feature new engines and a new wing that will improve fuel efficiency and range.

“We’re looking at everything at this moment,” Conner said. “We’re very comfortable with the process. We’re comfortable where we are. When we get it figured out then that’s when we’ll go forward.”

In other developments at the show, Rockwell Collins and Boeing announced the development of a new flight deck for retrofit into Boeing 767 and 757 models. The new flight deck incorporates electronic enhancements patterned after those in the 787 Dreamliner.

The new flight deck will be available in 2014. The new instruments and radios, controls and sensors will be available for installation in the 1,600 existing 767 and 757s. Boeing could incorporate the new flight deck into the 767s to be built after the certification of the new flight deck, but there was no official word whether that’s Boeing’s intention.

The 757 and 767 share a common flight deck. Production of the 757 ended several years ago, but the 767 remains in production at Boeing’s Everett plant. Boeing will use the 767 as the platform for a new Air Force aerial tanker.

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