Boeing Squeezes Seats Into 737 to Boost Low-Cost Carrier Appeal

Jul 13, 2014 7:00 pm ET

July 14 (Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co. is working on a high- capacity modification of its 737 narrow-body model aimed at discount airlines seeking to pack in as many travelers as possible on short-haul flights.

The aircraft will seat as many as 200 in a single cabin and is based on the re-engined 737 Max 8 set to debut in 2017, Ray Conner, chief executive officer of Boeing’s commercial airplane unit, said yesterday ahead of the Farnborough Air Show.

Boeing and Airbus Group NV are vying to squeeze more people into single-aisle jets as clients including Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe’s No. 1 discount carrier, seek lower unit costs. Airbus previously said it planned to boost the number of seats on its A320neo by nine to 189, the same number that Ryanair has in its fleet of 737-800s, which the Max 8 succeeds.

“When you’re in the low-cost, low-fare business, you’re always striving for that competitive advantage,” John Wojick, Boeing’s chief aircraft salesman, said in an interview.

The modified 737 model will be targeted at ultra-low-cost carriers seeking high-density seating configurations to pack in passengers on shorter flights were demand exceeds capacity, Wojick said.

Chicago-based Boeing will accommodate the higher load by squeezing passengers in tighter, with the space between seats decreasing by about two inches, while also adding an extra exit door behind the aircraft’s wing, Conner said.

Same Fuselage

The variant will share the same fuselage as the Max 8, and offer a 6 percent improvement in operating efficiency, he said. Boeing hasn’t determined when the model will make its commercial debut, though it will follow the 737 Max 8.

Conner said he doesn’t expect the newest model to cannibalize sales from the 737 Max 9, which is designed to fly longer routes while carrying about 192 people.

The redesigned Max series will boast new engines developed by General Electric Co., with re-designed wings to provide greater fuel savings for airlines. Even with the high-density version, Boeing will still face a gap in its product line-up left by the 757, a narrow-body tailored for transcontinental flights that hasn’t been manufactured for a decade.

“The Max will take us into the mid-2020s,” Conner said. “We’ll see what we get to after that.”

Airbus is planning to boost capacity on its largest A321neo narrow-body by 20 seats ti as many as 240 people.