Boeing discusses virtues of 737 replacement at Paris Air Show

The rain didn’t stop thousands from attending the first morning of the Paris Air Show, which opened at Le Bourget Airport north of Paris.

Inside the dry conference center this morning, Boeing’s head of commercial aircraft, Jim Albaugh, said separate teams at Boeing are focusing on putting new engines on its popular 737 airliner or developing a new plane to replace it. Each has advantages.

A redesign is technically viable and and could present an 8 percent operating cost advantage to operators and a lower risk to the company, Albaugh said.

A new airplane would be more costly and risky for Boeing, but it would give operators double-digit operating cost improvements and a plane poised for generations to come.

“I think going with a new airplane certainly is a strategic one, and one that would take care of our customer even better,” Albaugh said.

This time when it designs the plane, it would design the production system together. Whether it would be built at a new facility or require the expansion of a current facility hasn’t been decided.

Boeing expects the market for the plane to eventually surge to a record 60 to 70 per month.

And while it will have global partners as it does with the 787 Dreamliner, it will “redraw the lines” and keep more of the work in-house.

“We put too much outside on the 787,” Albaugh said.

If it chooses to go with a new airplane, it will go through the plane “piece by piece,” making decisions on whether it will be built from carbon or metal.

But the “baseline is carbon,” said Mike Bair, head of advanced 737 product development.

Spirit AeroSystems would be a contender to be a partner on a new airplane, Bair said.

“They use to be us,” said Bair, referring to the Wichita company’s roots as a division of Boeing’s commercial aircraft company.

A Boeing supplier could end up with a large section of a new aircraft, Bair said. But “it would be an open field.

Boeing also announced an agreement from Air Lease Corp. for up to 33 jetliners — 24 7373-800s, five 777-300ERs, and four 787-9 Dreamliners. It also announced an order from Qatar Airways for six 777-300ER airliners valued at $1.7 billion at list prices.

And it announced orders and commitments for 17 747-8 Intercontinental airliners from two undisclosed customers. The combined deals are valued at $5.4 billion at list prices. One customer has committed to 15 of the passenger version; another placed an order for two.

Embraer, meanwhile, has received orders for 39 Embraer 190 regional jets valued at $1.7 billion from Air Lease Corp., Air Astena, General Electric, Sriwijaya Air and Kenya Airways.

It also released a forecast for commercial planes in the 30 to 120 seat segment. Embraer projects demand for 7,225 planes from 2011 to 2030.