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OM in the News (with video): Boeing’s 4th Generation 737 Takes Shape

April 17, 2012

If you’ve ever flown, chances are you’ve ridden on a 737. Boeing’s strategy of product enhancement (Ch.5) has made the 737 the best-selling commercial aircraft in history, with 9,745 built since 1968. The newest version, the 737 Max, which is scheduled to make its debut in 2017, is designed with new engines to burn less fuel than its three predecessors, to help airlines’  costs and leave less of a carbon footprint on the environment.

Before the Max, writes USA Today (April 14-15, 2012), there were three versions of the plane: the Original that took flight  in February 1968; the Classics, which began flying passengers in 1984; and the Next Generation, which made its debut in 1998 with new wings and engines that enabled it to go farther and faster  while burning less fuel. All represented enhancements in the original concept of a narrow-body jet with the ability to fly medium to long-haul distances.  (Here is a great time-lapse 2.5 minute video of a 737 being built for Southwest that you can show in class).

At its most basic, the Max will be the same 737 stalwart the public has come to know. It’s a single-aisle jet that will ferry up to 215 passengers, but with higher efficiency. Outfitted with new engines, the Max will use 10% to 12% less fuel than its most current peer, the Next-Generation. That holds particular appeal for airlines, with jet fuel making up 25% to 40% of their costs, and whose profitability is threatened as the price of crude oil stays around $100 a barrel.

Even with Max, demand remains so high for the 737 that Boeing in January began delivering current model 737s at the unprecedented production pace of 35 a month. It plans to ramp up to 42 a month at the start of 2014 . Will a  completely new single-aisle plane will arrive eventually? “It’s something that we’ll definitely do at some point,” says Boeing.

Discussion questions:

1. Why has Boeing chosen product enhancement over a new single aisle plane?

2. How have cell phones been enhanced over the past 2 decades?

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