Fuel-saving retrofit for Boeing 767-300s

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

EVERETT — Jet fuel prices are up and lead times for fuel-efficient aircraft are out, leaving carriers with few ways to cut fuel consumption.

That’s where Aviation Partners Boeing comes in. The company has been helping airlines save fuel on single-aisle aircraft flights for nearly a decade. By the end of this year, its “blended winglet” technology could provide a reprieve to operators of Boeing 767-300 Extended Range widebody jets, too.

The move couldn’t come at a better time.

The Boeing Co. has delayed deliveries of its lightweight 787 Dreamliner by 20 months on average. The company developed its mostly carbon fiber composite material 787 as a replacement for the 767, offering a 20 percent improvement in fuel efficiency over comparable jets. With savings like that, Boeing has won nearly 900 orders for its Dreamliner.

Chances are, you’ve seen blended winglets on airplanes already — as of the end of May, Aviation Partners Boeing had supplied blended winglets for 2,376 Boeing jets. The upward curved feature on jet wings reduces drag and has become a prominent fixture on Boeing’s Next Generation 737s. Low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines has nearly 300 Boeing 737-700s with blended winglets and has begun installing the winglets on some of its 200 737-300 planes.

“We’ve nearly saturated the retrofit market” for 737s, said Patrick LaMoria, vice president of sales and marketing with Aviation Partners Boeing.

Boeing gained FAA approval to retrofit its single-aisle 737s with blended winglets in 2001. And airlines can order new Boeing’s Next Generation 737s with winglets. The company, a joint venture between the Boeing Co. and Aviation Partners Inc., also provides winglets for 757-200 and 757-300 narrow-body aircraft.

The company estimates altogether its winglets have saved the industry more than 1 billion gallons of fuel. With continued strong sales, Aviation Partners Boeing believes its product will save more than 5 billion gallons of fuel by the end of 2014.

In 2007, the Seattle-based Aviation Partners Boeing launched the 767-300ER winglet retrofit program, equipping existing 767s with the curved winglet sets. The company plans to have U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approval for its 767 product by the end of November.

Aviation Partners Boeing estimates that 767-300ER winglets provide carriers an average fuel savings of 350,000 gallons annually. That’s about a 6 percent fuel savings. As of mid-May, jet fuel prices had increased 90 percent over the same period in 2007, according to the International Air Transport Association. Adding winglets onto a passenger or a freighter 767-300ER jet can also boost the aircraft’s range by as many as 360 nautical miles and increase its payload by as much as 12,000 pounds, according to Aviation Partners’ predictions.

Aviation Partners Boeing has won orders for 121 sets of 767-300ER winglets from seven customers. That’s more customers than previous winglet retrofit programs had won before receiving FAA certification, LaMoria said. The company expects to sell out retrofit slots for the first year before it receives FAA approval.

“We now have more customers buying well in advance of certification,” he said.

Both American Airlines and Delta have put in requests for 767 winglet retrofits. Delta, for instance, plans to have 30 of its 767-300ER jets flying with winglets by 2010. The U.S.-based carrier has options to retrofit the remainder of its 767 fleet. At the end of 2007, that included a total of 50 767-300ER jets.

Boeing has taken orders from 43 customers for 538 of its 767-300ER jets and has delivered 523 aircraft already. That leaves a pretty large market for Aviation Partners Boeing to target. United Air Lines, for instance, has more than 30 767-300ER jets in its fleet.

The jetmaker’s chief executive, Jim McNerney, recently told Boeing investors that he anticipates even more 767 orders in the future, despite going 14 months without a single 767 request.

“I think there’s even more demand that we see there,” McNerney said.

Part of that demand is due to the delay in Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner — a setback that has driven interest in winglet retrofits on the 767, LaMoria said. Rising fuel costs, however, already had prompted some airlines to purchase the winglets.

“Now they know they may have to keep their planes in service a few years longer, it’s a more attractive case,” LaMoria said.

Some key 787 customers that fly 767s include British Airways, Qantas and All Nippon Airways. All have 787s on order as well. Qantas, for instance, is second only to International Lease and Finance Co. in 787 requests with 65 jets on order. At the end of last year, it listed 29 Boeing 767-300ER jets still in its service.

When Aviation Partners Boeing picks up FAA certification, it expects to pick up more 767 retrofit orders. American Air Lines workers in Kansas City are installing the first 767 winglets and will coordinate with Aviation Partners Boeing on flight tests, LaMoria said. Ultimately, the company predicts it will supply blended winglets for 80 percent of the 767-300ER jets on the market.

“If you don’t understand what Aviation Partners Boeing is about now, you will when you see a 767 flying around with winglets,” LaMoria said.

Reporter Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or mdunlop@heraldnet.com.