Boeing takes aim at Airbus single-aisle edge with stretched 737

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Paris: Boeing Co. will offer its first new jet in almost four years, with the stretched Max 10 upgrade of the 50-year-old 737 countering Airbus SE’s headstart at the largest end of the single-aisle aircraft market.

The US planemaker is confident the model can carve out sales and stem customer defections to the Airbus A321neo, which has racked up a considerable sales lead since being launched three years ago and still has room for upgrades.

“We think the timing’s just right,” Boeing chief executive officer Dennis Muilenberg said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “Max 8 and Max 9 continue to be at the heart of the market. The Max 10 is going to add” to a portfolio that boasts a production backlog of seven years.

The Max 10 will seat as many as 230 passengers, roughly matching its European rival while burning 5% less fuel thanks to a lighter construction, Boeing says. United Airlines, Indonesia’s Lion Mentari Airlines PT and SpiceJet Ltd are among a clutch of carriers that may place contracts at the expo, Bloomberg News reported this month, citing people familiar with the negotiations.

The Max 10, which will be Boeing’s first new model since the unveiling of the 777X series at the Dubai Air Show in 2013, will be five-and-a-half feet longer than the Max 9, currently the biggest member of the re-engined 737 family, which was launched alongside the Max 7 and 8 in 2011. Boeing said demand for single-aisle planes as well as widebodies remain buoyant despite concerns about turbulence in West Asia and low fuel prices lessening incentive to invest in more efficient aircraft.

“We are continuing to see strong energy in the marketplace,” said Muilenberg, predicting that new orders should roughly match deliveries this year. “I think there’s a little upside here this week” at the Paris show.

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The stretched version of the 737 will be achieved by adding a 40-inch segment in front of the plane’s wings, and a 26-inch plug behind them, with the wings themselves slightly modified to reduce drag at lower speeds. In order to carry the extra payload, the Max 10 will be equipped with larger, higher-thrust engines. The engines’ position on the wings will be moved to affect the aircraft’s centre of gravity.

The plane will also get taller landing gear to help resolve balance and tail-skid issues that cropped up with the 737-900ER, Keith Leverkuhn, general manager of the Max programme, said. The longest earlier-generation model is prone to tipping up if hold baggage isn’t balanced carefully.

The cumulative changes, which Boeing reckons it has achieved on a shoestring budget, are resonating well with customers, Kevin McAllister, who heads Boeing’s commercial airplanes arm, said.

The Chicago-based company projects that the Max 9 and 10 will together capture 25 to 30% of 737 sales over the next 20 years. The mid-sized Max 8—ordered by carriers including Southwest Airlines Co.—will remain the “core” offering and account for the bulk of demand.

That could mean that the Max 10 runs a risk of cannibalizing sales of the Max 9. Airbus’s chief salesman John Leahy said that the new Boeing plane looks “very marginal” and risks compromising range and performance for “a few extra seats”. Airbus itself could stretch the A321neo, its largest narrow-body, should demand be sufficient, he said.

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