Boeing may be considering equipping a potential stretched version of the 737 MAX narrowbody with a modified variant of the CFM International LEAP-1A engine, according to unconfirmed press reports. The LEAP-1A is larger and more powerful than the LEAP-1B engine that powers the three currently planned 737 MAX models.
The 737 MAX is a family of re-engined variants of Boeing’s 737 series of narrowbody airliners. It competes directly with Airbus’ A320neo series, which is similarly a family of re-engined versions of the European company’s A320 models. The LEAP-1B is one of two engine options on the A320neo series, the other being the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G.
Boeing is known to be considering the addition of a stretched 737 MAX model to its new narrowbody series. Such a model would be larger, and have longer range, than the 737 MAX 9, which is the largest of the three currently planned 737 MAX models.
Launch of a stretched 737 MAX variant could help Boeing carve into the early sales lead enjoyed by the A320neo over the 737 MAX. This sales advantage is largely due to the head start that Airbus had by launching the A320neo almost a year earlier than the launch of the 737 MAX.
In addition, a larger, longer-range 737 MAX variant would enable Boeing to counter Airbus’ A321LR, a new NEO version for which Boeing currently has no direct response. The A321LR is an extended-range version of the A321neo, and will be able to fly 206 passengers on routes of up to 4,000 nautical miles. Initial deliveries of the A321LR are planned for 2019.
Boeing would lose some commonality among the 737 MAX models if it does choose to put LEAP-1B engines on a stretched 737 MAX version. Such a move might also necessitate some structural redesign for the stretched variant, such as repositioning the aircraft’s landing gear.
Launch of a stretched 737 MAX model is only one of the projects currently under consideration at Boeing. Possibly spurred by recent sales success of the Bombardier CSeries, Boeing is looking at potentially redesigning the 737 MAX 7, the smallest of the 737 MAX models, into a somewhat larger model with added range. Delta and Southwest have already expressed interest in such a revamped version. The current 737 MAX 7 version seats 126 passengers in two classes and has a range of 3,350 nautical miles.
Meanwhile, a much more ambitious undertaking is also under consideration at Boeing. The company is evaluating a possible all-new aircraft that would fit into the large market space between the 737 narrowbody and the 787 small widebody. Such a so-called middle-of-the-market (MOM) aircraft, which could ultimately emerge as a family of two variants, would likely seat 200-260 passengers and have a range of approximately 3,500-5,000 nautical miles. So far undecided is whether the new aircraft would be a narrowbody or widebody design. It would likely not enter service until the mid-2020s.
Even further down the road could be an all-new narrowbody to replace the 737 MAX. This New Small Airplane (NSA) could enter service around 2030. Boeing might decide to develop the MOM aircraft and the NSA as a common family or, more likely, as separate designs that could share some equipment and technology. It should be noted, though, that Boeing has yet to commit itself to pursuing any of these new ventures.
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