Production a key factor in 737 decision

PARIS — If Boeing decides to replace its popular 737, the company will design more than a new jet. It also will decide how to produce it.

With a narrow-body aircraft such as a 737 replacement, one supplier could end up with a large section of the plane, said Mike Bair, Boeing's head of advanced 737 product development.

And Spirit AeroSystems would be a contender for some of the work.

Spirit builds the 737's fuselage and is preparing to ramp up production to a record 42 planes a month to meet Boeing's schedule.

Currently, Boeing 737 fuselages are shipped by train to Boeing's assembly site in Renton, Wash. And Boeing's specially designed Dreamlifter aircraft transport 787 parts from suppliers by air to Everett, Wash., for final assembly. That's an expensive way to ship the parts.

Transportation for sections on a new aircraft is an issue, Bair said.

"We have a lot of thinking to do," he said.

Trains work, but the size of a fuselage can't be "dictated by a turn or a curve" on the route, as it was for the 737-900NG.

"We don't want that to happen," Bair said.

Boeing is exploring whether to change engines on the 737 with more efficient ones or to design an all-new airplane to replace it.

A decision on which avenue it will take will likely be made before the end of the year, officials said.

Should Boeing decide on a replacement, it will have to get its supply chain in order to meet projected demand of an eventual 60 to 70 planes per month, Jim Albaugh, Boeing's head of its commercial aircraft division, said Monday.

Boeing will go through "piece by piece" to decide what material each part would be made with. Any replacement airplane would have carbon materials as its "baseline," Bair said.

That said, Boeing would continue to build the 737 for several years, even should it decide to build a new plane to replace it.

"We could be building 737-NGs in parallel with building a new airplane," Albaugh said.

Orders coming in

On Day 1 of the show, Boeing and Airbus announced significant orders of airplanes.

Boeing 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.

Boeing also 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.

Airbus, meanwhile, announced an order from SAS for 30 A320neo family of aircraft. It also said it signed memos of understanding with Cebu Pacific of the Philippines for 30 A321neo aircraft and with Air Lease Corp. for 50 A320neo aircraft with an option for 14 additional planes. Saudi Arabian Airlines will buy four A330-300 aircraft, Airbus said.

Embraer announced an order worth $1.7 billion for 39 Embraer 190 regional jets.

Harlow gets work

Harlow Aerostructures in Wichita received a big win on opening day of the show. It won a $500,000 contract with an Israeli company.

Harlow manufactures parts and components.

"They were so excited," said Tammy Nolan of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

The GWEDC is exhibiting at the show along with Harlow and Fiber Dynamics, which share a portion of its booth.