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Thursday, May 3, 2012

737MAX announcement: Has Boeing and Airbus run out of ideas?

Boeing has just announced the new design features of the upcoming 737MAX. While I wasn't expecting much, other than the focus being on the new engines and the challenges surrounding putting a larger fan on an aircraft with its short and stumpy landing gear, but I ended up shaking my head in disbelief of the disappointing kind.

New rendering of the 737Max (image from Boeing)

I was unimpressed when Airbus released the NEO, with it's so-called Sharklets. To me, it's nothing but a redesigned blended winglet like Aviation Partner's blended winglet for the 737NG. Yes, the new engine sounds good, but the sharklets? Seriously, I thought Airbus had run out of new ideas decided to copy Boeing... that is, until today's 737MAX announcement.

A320NEO... and we thought Airbus gave up and decided to copy Boeing!
(image from Airbus)

Look, the 737MAX is already overstretching the 60s 737 technology to new ridiculous bounds... but I mean really, it really does look like Boeing has run out of ideas. I mean, look at it: 
737MAX winglets: MD-11 winglets made curvier or
Airbus Wingtip fence bent into a curve?
(image by Boeing & Southwest)
The winglets, it's like an Airbus wingtip fence being hammered till its bent! And then:
Nose blister anyone? (image from Boeing)
Nose blister. Yes, I know it's for the extended nose gear to cater for the MAX's bigger engines, but can't Boeing really engineer a flushed nosegear housing? It looks like a mini A330-200F nosewheel blister on a mini-scale (which befits the smaller size of the 737).

Have both Boeing and Airbus really run out of ideas that they have to start copying each other?

No, I'm just kidding. The MAX's new wingtip is like the MD-11, only made curvier.



Going back to humour, while the A320 NEO is simply an A320 with 737NG winglets, the 737MAX can be basically summed up as a 737 body and wing with:
  • MD-11 winglets
  • Embraer 170/190 tailcone
  • A310 fly-by-wire spoiler system
  • A320NEO engine (in form of the CFM Leap-X)
  • A330-200F nosewheel housing

Hardcore Airbus and Boeing fans are going to have a hard time throwing bricks at each other with the NEO and the MAX, as one can cynically accuse the other of copying due to lack of imagination. The reality is, both Airbus and Boeing do try to push for the best technologies that can be safely put on an aircraft.  But, the development of the MAX and NEO does prove one thing:

There is more than one way to skin a cat...
albeit there isn't much to pick from!

The marketing department of Boeing and Airbus can claim whatever they like when it comes to which one has the best performance. In reality, users know that both make damn competitive narrowbody aircraft, which shouldn't change with the NEO and MAX. Claim all they like, eventually, the certified performance numbers will be revealed in the FCOM2 for the NEO and FPPM for the MAX. If the 320 (with the newer CFM56-3B or IAE V2500-A5 engines) and 737NG certified flight performance numbers are to go by, the edge of one over the other can be as simple as who sneezed at the wrong time during the negotiation process.

As an MD-11 hater, I however, would instead say, "the MD-11 has come back to haunt the skies of the future, in the shape of the MAX's winglets!" Let's hope that the MAX with the MD-11esque winglets don't have the same performance shortfalls as the initial MD-11s...
The MD-11 winglets didn't prevent the performance shortfalls,
will the MAX winglet do better?

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