The Major Economic Drivers behind why the 737 MAX was developed
This is Part 2 of an in-depth investigative report by Aviation Reporter and Author of aviation books Thomas E. Gardner. In part 2 we learn why the 737 MAX was developed and the major economic drivers behind the MAX. You can read Part 1 of the story HERE.
The airline industry’s influx on 737 MAX development decision – Major Economic Drivers
Major air-carriers like United, American and US Airways all operate both long and short-haul aircraft.
The single-aisle narrow body, short-haul aircraft spend on average 8.2 hours in-flight per day. The larger wide-bodied aircraft fly longer distances with more passengers and payload. Those planes spend on average 11.5 hours airborne per day.
However, the narrow-body planes fly as many as 4.5 flights per day while the average wide-body long-distance aircraft flies just 1.5 flights per day.
The short-haul narrow-body aircraft spend far more time loading and unloading passengers, cargo, fuel, and food, vastly contributing to the overall operational costs for the company.
Fuel costs largely predicated on passenger seat/mile use were at best secondary in the companies’ operational bottom line.
Thru the advent of new technology mainly in turbofan engine design, drastically altered the role of the popular short-haul planes like the 737, A320 and 757.
This enabled airlines to utilize the existing airframes for longer and longer flights. It became blatantly apparent that it was cheaper to modify, “upgrade” these proven airframes with new power plants, than operating the wide-body long haul aircraft for this intermediate range and use.
Even thru the practice of fuel hedging, the price of jet fuel steadily increased. This became an escalating concern for the airlines.
They in turn vigorously welcomed this new engine technology with open arms. They knew when properly utilized in their new Boeing and Airbus variants it would place them well within profitability again.
December 1, 2010
December 1, 2010, marked a paradigm shift in the marketing strategy for the Boeing Corporation. Airbus announced the arrival of its new A320 (N.E.O.) (New Engine Option) and in the following months sold like hotcakes.
Shortly after, in January 2011, Boeing again revisited their prior interest in “clean-sheeting” the original 737 design.
Boeing, at this point, could have sold off its remaining 737-800 and 900 NG inventory in order to remain profitable while developing an entirely new high-tech version of the venerable 737.
This, however, would involve a costly certification process both in terms of time and money.
What transpired soon after would force Boeing into fabricating the largest engineering design disaster in company history.
American Airlines, one of the world’s largest airlines, and a staunch ally of Boeing possessed no Airbus aircraft in its inventory.
American’s massive airplane order
On July 20, 2011, American announced a massive order involving 460 narrow-body planes. They would include 130 Airbus A320’s, 130 A 320 NEOs, 100 737s and 100 re-engined 737’s.
This press release orchestrated by American Airlines stated that American “intends to order 100 of Boeing’s expected new evolution of the 737 NG, utilizing a new engine offering more fuel-efficient gains over the models of that day.”
So, what is wrong with this?
Boeing did not announce American’s order for a non-existent plane (the 737 Max)
Boeing, at that time, did not announce nor were they aware of this order for this non-existent plane!
Did American Airlines coerce, strong-arm, or just bully Boeing to commit to this, by dangling an order for this mythical re-vamped aircraft?
Airline economics played a role
This is where airline economics takes on a deeper significance in order to effectively operate. Fuel and maintenance are not the only factors that influence the company’s bottom line.
737 MAX Pilot training
Pilot training is very expensive, and in order to keep costs manageable, the airline usually operates a fleet of the same aircraft and their subsequent upgrades revealed in their evolving variants.
Pilots are trained to the aircraft, not to that specific variant. This allows pilots to easily adapt to that aircraft variant without the use of any expensive additional training, reduce overall costs while maintaining the highest in pilot proficiency.
737 MAX Airframe and power plant mechanics training
Retraining the airframe and power plant mechanics on different aircraft is also very costly. So, the selection of reliable, dependable and maintainable airframe along with its subsequent variants makes complete sense, especially to the company’s bottom line.
It is clear now what American Airlines wanted from Boeing
- American wanted another revamped version of the 737 utilizing the new geared turbofans.
- American was too heavily invested in the Boeing 737 and its support equipment then to switch horses in the middle of the stream so to speak.
The resulting Boeing and American agreement on the 737 MAX development – Why the 737 MAX was finally developed
Within a brief period, Boeing and American Airlines did craft an agreement resulting in Boeing officially announcing its commitment to the development of the new re-engined 737-800 NG, yielding the 737 MAX series of aircraft.
Figure 2 contrasts the superficial similarities between both airframes, but, in reality, the 737 Max was a very different and unstable aircraft.
This new series of aircraft, while utilizing the newest geared turbofans, would have a maximum range of 4,400 miles or 7,100 kilometers compared to the older 737’s 3,400 miles or 5,400-kilometers range.
In order to achieve these ambitious design goals, Boeing engineers faced daunting design challenges, especially working with a 52-year-old airframe design and its antiquated flight control system.
What they endeavored to achieve would precipitate into perhaps the worst aeronautical engineering design disaster in company history.
This incident could forever tarnish not only Boeing’s good name as a trusted aircraft designer and manufacturing but more importantly its ethical character as well.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of the Thomas E. Gardner’s series about the 737 Max-8 engineering disaster, where he provides you with more facts from his research.
2. Fear of Landing – What is Going on with the Boeing 77 Max-8. Fearoflanding.com.
3. Boeing 737 Max – Wikipedia.
4. The Economics that Made Boeing Build the 737 Max Video and Transcripts. Made available by WIX.
What do you think about Thomas E. Gardner’s reveal of why the 737 MAX was developed? You can contact the author here.
Featured Image: Picture of the Ethiopian 737 Max that crashed. Wikipedia.
Story: ©2020 Thomas E. Gardner. Renowned Aviation Journalist & Author Thomas E. Gardner has spent months on his investigative report. The author has based his story on true facts that have been learned in regard to the 737 Max-8 engineering disaster during his in-depth investigation process of the article.
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