NEW YORK — Airbus and Boeing are mulling a makeover that may not fly with airlines.
The two largest makers of commercial jets are exploring new engines for their bestselling single-aisle planes to cut fuel consumption and shorten clients' wait for a new version. Some airlines are questioning the benefits of the upgrade, referred to as re-engining in the industry, as it may hurt the value of existing fleets and make their operations more complex.
"It's still to be determined whether this is something that'll be to our benefit or not," American Airlines corporate finance managing director Peter Warlick said Monday. "It's unknown how well the engine will perform, what the weight of the engine is, and the fact that we'd have single type airplanes with two engine variants."
The existing versions of the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 single-aisle jets are more than a decade old, putting pressure on the manufacturers to provide new models that help cut fuel consumption, airlines' biggest operational cost. At the same time, the two airplane types remain the companies' bestsellers, making Boeing and Airbus reluctant to change the design, with thousands of single-aisle orders still pending.
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Warlick, whose airline is replacing older MD80 jets with new Boeing 737-800s, said any improvement in fuel efficiency with oil close to $85 a barrel would help. American had 117 737-800s at the end of March and will accept another 35 this year after already taking 10.
Airbus and Boeing need to decide if they want to spend $1 billion or more on an upgrade of their workhorse planes until new models are introduced around 2024. The alternative would be to skip the stopgap models and go straight to an all-new plane, at a cost 10 times as high as a jet with a redesigned engine.