Boeing team to develop post-737 jet
Only a couple weeks after rolling out the 5,000th 737, Boeing formally named an initial planning team to lead development of a replacement for the Renton-built jet. On Boeing's internal Web site Tuesday, the company announced that Mike Cave, vice president for airplane programs, will direct the work.
"The Next-Generation 737 is a wonderful airplane with a strong future in the marketplace; the challenge of dramatically improving on its proven economy, performance and reliability is a daunting task and one that will take considerable innovation," Cave said in the Boeing news item. "The leaders we've named today understand the challenge and are the right team to assess both the market requirements and necessary technology developments." The decisions made by the new team, from timing to location of assembly, could have a huge impact here.
In December, commercial airplanes Chief Executive Alan Mulally, said a replacement for the single-aisle 737 would enter service between 2012 and 2015 and hinted it will be assembled in the Puget Sound area. It's unclear if that would be in Renton or in Everett.
The project team includes:
• Carolyn Brandsema, director of engineering for the 737/MMA program, who will head the study of the airplane and the production system used to build it. It's expected that the replacement jet will have a carbon fiber-based plastic fuselage like the 787, and will use the innovative, flexible manufacturing methods that will be introduced for the larger jet next year. Also like the 787, the new program will likely require orchestration of a global supply chain, with major overseas partners contributing large sections of the aircraft.
• Kent Fisher, a marketing vice president in the commercial-airplane division, will head business development. His job will be to ensure that whatever Boeing comes up with is what the airlines want.
• Don Moon, now on the 787 program-management team, will consider how best to manage the project.
• Rod Wheeler, director of finance estimating and planning in the commercial-airplanes division, will work out what it will all cost.
Major partners on the program are likely to have to contribute their own investment to reduce Boeing's development costs. Initiating a new airplane program has the potential to hurt sales of the current jet — airlines might become reluctant to buy if they think that a new, improved jet could be available soon. So even as it made the announcement internally, Boeing sought to play down the move. "Someday both the Next-Generation 737 and the (Airbus) A320 will need to be replaced, but so far we have not found a more compelling airplane for the single-aisle market," Cave said in his statement. "Until we do, we will continue to invest in the Next-Generation 737." Despite the description of the team as being formed for "initial studies" of a 737 replacement, early exploratory work has been going on within Boeing for several years.
At the Farnborough Air Show in July 2004 a top executive with a major systems supplier confided that his company was already discussing concepts with Boeing on what was then code-named the Y1 project. Boeing spokesman Craig Martin said the internal announcement doesn't mean the 737 replacement program will launch any earlier than publicly stated by Mulally last year. To deliver in 2012, Boeing would have to launch the program soon after airlines take their first 787s in 2008.