Crash Course Boeing 737 Business Case

There may, or may not, be an issue with the ‘ai’ that flies Boeing’s latest iteration of the world’s best selling plane.

Two fatal disasters in short order. Last year off Indonesia, and this week East Africa. 346 deaths. The code patch issued after the first crash allegedly not good enough. The new MCAS (Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System) element the cause of much complaint. Airlines and air authorities clamour to ground the plane.

Brand new aeroplanes falling out of skies. Super scary. The 2009 Air France 747 that went down off the cost of Brazil did so in part because of crew inability to deal with autopilot disengagement. With this new automatic control system and/or the crew’s response to it en route to Nairobi still potentially at fault – the much-vaunted AI of the driverless car of the very near tomorrow springs to mind – is the future postponed?

Leave aside for the moment the ‘algorithms’, there’s a phase of aircraft innovation right now that is unleashing incredible benefits over what – often only surprisingly recently – went before.

I marvel at inventions like Rolls Royce’s 3D printed woven ceramic engine parts. Set to slash overall weight, joining the party begun by new composite materials also contributing here in their own way.

Aircraft are so expensive they need a compelling, proven business case.

With the ‘Max’ model order book reportedly an eye-popping $600bn, here’s a few lines from around the web explaining this allure of the latest 737. It apparently ‘replicates what airlines already have, only better, lighter, [with greater capacity, can fly farther] and are cheaper to fuel and maintain’;

Forecasted annual savings of up to £3m a plane

Boeing claim the Max runs on 14-20% less fuel than the newest “next generation” 737s available before

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary said the Max would cut his rock-bottom costs another 5%

Carry 12 more passengers 400 nautical miles farther than the A319neo, on 7 percent lower fuel costs

New ‘double’ winglet increases fuel efficiency by 1.8% compared to the current 737 winglet

Boeing estimates that when compared to a fleet of 100 of today’s most fuel-efficient aircraft, this new model will emit 350,000 fewer tonnes of CO2, which translates into more than $112 million in cost savings, based on typical missions and utilisation

Is such style comparable to value our business case figures trumpet?

Can you create similar standpoints?

And how would they stack up against your main alternative? (In this case, from Airbus. Where if it were a game of Top Trumps, neither maker has a plane that outscores its rival across the board.)

There’s also a fascinating wikipedia section speculating from where future fuel economy savings may well come. Featuring this listing;

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) technology roadmap envisions improvements in aircraft configuration and aerodynamics. It projects the following reductions in fuel consumption:

2016: 10–15% from advanced and geared turbofans
2019: 15–20% from open rotor/unducted fans
2022: 5–10% by natural laminar flow; 10–15% hybrid laminar flow
2023: 15–20% from counter-rotating propellers
2026: 25–30% from second-generation core concepts
2026: 10–25% from Hybrid Wing Body
2027: 5–10% from airframe morphing
2028: 10–15% from truss or strut-braced wing design
2032: 10–20% by flying without landing gear

Again, does this provide a possible template to benchmark against? You have upcoming developments in your ‘roadmap’. Without giving away your trade secrets, can you frame them in similar fashion? I’ve seen plenty of product managers present their projected path – always also called a roadmap – for wonderful game changing features that are not quite beyond the horizon. I’ve never seen one of them attribute actual values like these fuel consumption percentage reduction savings though…

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