When Boeing released their 737 MAX, many argued that the rapid success of the Airbus A320neo was a key catalyst.
But was it just Airbus and their popular A320neo program that resulted in Boeing being pushed to release an upgrade to the 737NG, or were there other vital developments?
Studies Begin For A New 737
In the mid-2000s, Boeing began studying the development of a new aircraft to succeed the 737NG offered. The American plane maker knew that to stay competitive, it needed to meet evolving market conditions.
This was when efficiency became increasingly critical, and Boeing needed a plane that checked all boxes.
However, as this project progressed, Boeing faced a dilemma. Developing an entirely new aircraft, such as a clean sheet design, would take substantial time and resources. Additionally, Boeing was facing intense pressure from airlines who needed a fuel-efficient plane and needed it sooner rather than later.
The Emergence Of The Airbus A32neo
Additionally, there was a fierce competitor, Airbus, in the picture. The European plane maker was moving ahead with their re-engine to the A320ceo and was enjoying a tonne of interest.
The Airbus A320neo, a revamped version of the A320 with new, more fuel-efficient engines, gained traction in the market during the 2000s. Airlines were attracted to the improved fuel efficiency and operating costs of the A320neo over other current offerings, which put pressure on Boeing to respond effectively.
Boeing Moves Ahead With A Quick Solution
Given the time required for a clean-sheet design, Boeing opted for a quicker solution, using the dated fuselage of the 737 and whacking new engines alongside further enhancements to make it a worthy upgrade. All this could be done while limiting costs and time spent to try and obtain approval for the entry of the aircraft into service.
Boeing’s new 737 was propelled to launch as long-term customers switched towards Airbus and their A320 family. For fear of potentially losing further customers, Boeing had to make a decision, which is precisely what they did.
Boeing’s decision to re-engine the 737 involved incorporating new, more efficient CFM International LEAP-1B engines. This approach allowed Boeing to meet the demand for better fuel efficiency while leveraging the existing infrastructure of the 737NG.
The company aimed to provide a competitive alternative to the A320neo, addressing the concerns of airlines increasingly favouring Airbus, which negatively impacted Boeing.
Concerns Emerge Over The 737 MAX
The re-engine strategy, however, raised challenges. Boeing faced the temptation to make compromises to cut costs and expedite development. One significant challenge was accommodating the larger and more fuel-efficient engines on the existing 737 airframes.
As a result, this posed aerodynamic and structural challenges, leading Boeing to introduce the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
The development process of the 737 MAX would ultimately face a substantial amount of scrutiny. Boeing’s rush to market with the MAX model and the desire to keep costs in check led to design choices that later proved problematic.
Ultimately, reliance on a single sensor for MCAS and the lack of adequate pilot training on the new system became focal points of criticism following the incidents of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.
The 737 MAX Proves Its Worth
While there were concerns following these incidents over the MAX’s recovery, now, as the mid-way point of the 2020s approach the aircraft has recovered.
Every month, the 737 MAX is attracting firm interest in the form of orders or discussions and is flying around the world, too. Despite several bumps in the road, the plane succeeded and is adequately performing commercially for the most part.
However, the series will always have a lingering feel of the 2018 and 2019 incidents, highlighting the flawed process of launching the type and the attempts to chase profits. This case comes directly from the competition the manufacturer saw coming from Airbus.
Looking Ahead At Boeing
Looking ahead, Boeing’s next narrowbody to replace the 737 MAX will likely need to be a clean sheet, and studies are already ongoing about what that’ll be for the American plane maker.
However, the overall direction Boeing chooses to go in remains to be seen. Analysts would argue that while the 737 fuselage has served Boeing exceptionally well through many decades, it is time to move on to something new.
Thus, the expectation is the 737 MAX replacement will indeed launch a new era for the American plane maker and see the company say goodbye to the 737 fuselage that served for so long.