By John Wolcott SCBJ Freelance Writer
Of all the airliners ever produced by Boeing, the top-rated, best selling plane is its single-aisle 737, which first entered service in February 1968. It’s built in Renton in the factory where Boeing built B-29 bombers in World War II.
So far, including the new 737NG (Next Generation), worldwide airlines have bought or ordered more than 9,000 737 models, with a backlog that reached 2,000 at the end of 2009, according to the latest information released by Boeing.
The company launched the 737 MAX Aug. 30 as an upgraded plane with highly fuel-efficient engines and 787-inspired Sky Interior.
The new 737 MAX already has commitments for 496 orders from five airlines, a response that Boeing Commercial Airplanes Co. President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Albaugh calls “overwhelming.”
Powered by CFM International LEAP-1B engines optimized for the 737, the new plane will have the lowest operating costs of any single-aisle aircraft with a 7 percent advantage over its competitors. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2017, with 737 production rates for all models predicted to be as high as 60 planes per month.
The new 737 MAX 7, 737 MAX 8 and 737 MAX 9 will build on the strengths of the 737 Next Generation aircraft that is already a popular product. Boeing forecasts global airline demand for more than 23,000 airplanes in the 737’s market segment over the next 20 years, a segment valued at nearly $2 trillion.
On Sept. 15, state officials announced Project Pegasus, aimed at expanding aerospace training in the region and reducing regulatory manufacturing hurdles to encourage Boeing to build the new 737 MAX plant in Washington.
When the Boeing board of directors decided the 737 MAX might need to be built in a new factory, state officials launched early bids for locating the plant in Washington, possibly in Snohomish County.
County officials and real estate developers already are looking at a 1,000-acre site in north Marysville, south of the Arlington Municipal Airport, for the new 737 MAX plant. The site previously was considered for a NASCAR race track several years ago but more recently the cities of Marysville and Arlington have focused on developing the area into a large business park.
Meanwhile, the Snohomish County Council passed a resolution to urge Boeing to build the 737 MAX at Paine Field, noting that 80 acres is available adjacent to the main runway.
Although 80 acres may prove to be too small for Boeing’s needs, Paine Field has distinct advantages. The new plant would keep manufacturing close to engineers, an issue that emerged as one of the problems in 787 production delays. A trained aerospace workforce is part of the region’s tradition, including the presence of a new training facility recently opened at the airport. And the county already is one of the world’s strongest aerospace hubs.
Aerospace unions also are focused on the new 737 developments, especially with contracts up for negotiations next year with both the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.
The decision could come soon, aerospace industry observers predict, simply because Airbus already has announced 1,200 orders for its single-aisle A320neo (new engine option). Airbus is targeting first delivery of its 737 competitor for 2015, two years before the 737 MAX.
Albaugh told news media the company decided to re-engine the 737 rather than create an entirely new plane because “our customers have told us they want efficiency and they want it soon.”
Boeing plans to pick a site for the 737 MAX production in the next six to eight months “based on what’s best for the company and what’s best for our customers … Certainly Renton is at the top of the list,” Albaugh said.
He said Boeing will continue building the 737NG even after deliveries for the 737 MAX start. By 2014, the Renton plant is expected to reach production of 42 planes per month.