Skip to comments.737 as popular as ever (Spirit workers to celebrate 5,000th fuselage)
Posted on 12/12/2005 9:57:19 PM PST by Paleo Conservative
In 1965, when Boeing launched its new short-range 4737 twinjet, some Wichita workers didn't think there would be a large market for the plane.
They figured the much bigger 747 would be the hotter seller. After all, airlines were using hubs more than they were offering point-to-point service -- direct routes between cities that bypassed hubs.
At the time, Wichita workers built the tooling for the 737 fuselage as if they would manufacture only about 100 planes in all.
Time has proven them wrong.
The 737 is the most popular jetliner in commercial aircraft history. It has provided jobs for thousands of Wichita workers for dozens of years.
This week, workers will load the 5,000th 737 fuselage onto a railcar in south Wichita and send it to Boeing's facility in Renton, Wash. In February, the plane will be delivered to Southwest Airlines, which operates the largest 737 fleet in the world.
Employees at Spirit AeroSystems, formerly Boeing's commercial aircraft facility, will celebrate the milestone on Tuesday.
"That has been the mainstay of our commercial line for a number of years," said Spirit AeroSystems chief executive Jeff Turner.
And it appears it will stay that way. At least in the short term.
Boeing has 737s on order for delivery in the latter part of this decade, said Boeing spokesman Craig Martin.
Just last month, airlines in China ordered 150 737s in a deal valued at as much as $9 billion on list prices.
Boeing said its newest 737s -- the 600, 700, 800 and 900 models -- are economical and the most technologically-advanced airplanes in their class. Boeing also offers a 737 cargo plane, a combination cargo-passenger model and a business jet.
With an upturn in the market, Boeing is raising 737 production rates. At the end of October, Boeing had orders for 1,046 737s.
"The orders have just been phenomenal," said JSA Research aerospace analyst Paul Nisbet. "We won't see any let up in production, I don't think, until the next decade, and then it's far from certain."
But will Wichita build another 5,000 737 fuselages?
"No," Nisbet said. "I think sometime in the next decade, (Boeing will) replace it with an aircraft that will have the same or better technology than the 787," Boeing's newest jet.
"We're surmising that in 2011 or 12 or 13 -- in that time frame -- talk will be about launching or perhaps actually launching a new replacement aircraft," Nisbet said.
Martin agreed that Boeing will likely replace the 737 -- there are still 4,188 flying today -- with an all-new airplane. But how soon is hard to say.
"The market is going to tell us that," Martin said.
Southwest Airlines has been informally talking with Boeing about the potential of using the enhancements in technology and fuel efficiencies found in its advanced design aircraft -- the 777 and the 787 Dreamliner -- to improve the smaller 737, said Southwest executive vice president for operations Mike Van de Ven.
They aren't talking about a total replacement, he said.
When there are new aircraft designs, "you get smarter and smarter and you learn more things," Van de Ven said. The airline is interested in how much transferability there could be to the 737.
"We have a great partnership with Boeing," he said. "They are very interested in our perspective."
Boeing delivered the first 737-100 in 1967 to Lufthansa Airlines. In the ensuing years, the 737 has kept thousands employed in Wichita, although employment has risen and fallen with cycles in the business.
Production of the 737 fuselage makes up about 45 percent of the Wichita operation's business, said Spirit vice president and general manager of fuselage structures Richard "Buck" Buchanan. Including the struts and nacelles -- work the plant added later -- 60 percent of the business is 737 work, he said.
Expertise on the fuselage is a skill Spirit is actively marketing to other potential aviation customers as it seeks to grow the business.
Spirit's Turner said he thinks Boeing will want Spirit to do work on whatever plane will be the next single-aisle aircraft.
The goal would be to win the same amount of work on a new plane as it currently has on the 737, he said.
"Of course, we have to earn that opportunity," Turner said.
In the meantime, "we are selling ourselves and our capabilities now to the whole industry," he said.
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The 737 is the B-52 of commercial aviation. They just keep on ticking.
That's why if JetBlue had bought the 737-800 in the first place they wouldn't passenger load limits on transcon flights between the US West Coast and New York-JFK.
If Boeing had modernized the 727 by replacing the 3-man cockpit with the 757 2-man cockpit and changing it to a twin engine configuration, it's quite possible the 727 would have continued being the most popular jet airliner. It was only after the the 727 was discontinued that the 737 orders really started increasing.
The Next Generation 737 is almost a new aircraft compared to older 737 models. It has two totally new wings and new avionics. It has the same dimensions as the classic 737's so it fits at gates designed for older 737's and can use the same ground equipment, but in many ways it is mostly a new plane.
As a frequent flyer, I generally feel safe in 737s, especially compared to the A319 and A320, which just don't seem solid to me, or MD-80s, which are outright flexible (just sit with your shoulder against the wall near an emergency exit and you'll see).
But the single scariest airplane I've been on was an ancient 737 flown by Aloha Air, just last year. This was an original-issue model with the engines tucked under the wings without pylons. It was of the same vintage as the one that went "convertible" off Hawaii many years ago due to age, salt-air corrosion and the stress of countless island-hopping decompressions. This one had riveted reinforcement plates running down the full length of the fuselage to avoid the same fate. Not confidence-inspiring. Maybe Air Sibera runs older, more run-down planes than that one. But it got us from island to island in one piece. Keeps on ticking, indeed.
Wasn't the first one off the line the prototype? I thought NASA had already sent it to the Smithsonian.
The first 707 is at the new Smithsonian, but it had so many modifications that it don't look much like a 707 anymore.
Actually, the A320's that are out now with the high bypass engines can do coast to coast without any problems. Our first batch of A320's (from Braniff II) had problems doing BWI-PHX on a hot summer day. But our newer 320's and 319's easily did BOS-SFO or LAX-JFK. We have a 319 that does Phoenix to San Jose Costa Rica without any problems, and we also go to Cancun from Phoenix without much problems (even less now that we have ETOPS).
Nice bird...just avoid that hard-over rudder...could ruin your day!
You will get a kick out of this, from the December issue of Air Transport World "Through the Years"
30 years ago: ALPA and United's pilots may have won all the battles but lost the war on the 737 three-man crew issue. UAL sold two more 737s in November and has another tabled for 1976. It also plans to sell 10 others.
The 737 is probably the world's most overpowered airliner, and the Southwest pilots seem to delight in this fact during takeoff. If the country ever needs another medium bomber or cruise missile platform, the 737 would be just the ticket.
The Dash-80 really wasn't a prototype. It was a technology demonstrator. The fuselage was derived from the Boeing 367 Stratocruiser. I'm not quite sure if the wings were adapted from the B-47. The fuselage width of the KC-135 wasn't settled till the first order for them came from the USAF. Boeing later was forced to make the commercial 707 fuselage four inches wider after Pan Am ordered 25 DC-8's be delivered after the first 20 707's.
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