Flight International is this week reporting that Boeing is looking at the possibility of boosting the seating capacity of the B737-900, to allow it to compete with the A321 and make it more appealing to leisure airlines that operate aircraft in a high density layout.
The A321 has become very popular in the European leisure market because of it's commonality with the rest of the A320 family, and it's capacity to seat up to 220 passengers.
This is where Boeing has lost out, the B737-900 cannot seat any more than the 189 passengers the B737-800 is certified to carry due exit requirements. This has meant the B737-900 has no appeal for European leisure airlines, and has damaged sales of the B737 family in this market as a result, as Airbus could offer a single family of 149-220 seat aircraft, while Boeing were limited in only offering aircraft up to 189 seats.
Although the B757 remains very popular here in Europe, and is operated in large numbers, for airlines that only a few aircraft with over 200 seats, it is preferable for them to operate an aircraft from the A321/B737 range, rather than introduce a small fleet of a totally new type. Obviously for the larger airlines, where the B757 predominates, the B757 has the advantage of commonality with the B767.
Boeing admits that the B737-900 is unsuitable as a charter aircraft, and is looking to rectify this in 2 ways;
(1) Overcome the exit rules by adding a pair of Type-1 emergency exits aft of the wing (like those on the 757)
(2) Look at an MTOW increase, to boost the B737-900's range, and allow for the extra structural weight of the exits.
The B737-900X with additional exits would allow 3 rows of seats to be added, boosting seating capacity to 207 passengers and considerably improving the appeal of the B737 family to European leisure operators.
The additional range that the B737-900X would offer would bring it close to that of the B737-800, also important for airlines that would want to use the aircraft for longer trips like Scandinavia-Egypt and UK-West Africa.
My only concerns with Boeings plans are;
- Would there be a large enough market for this aircraft, given Airbus' is now dominating this market? Boeing is investigating this.
- And, will this damage B757 sales? I'm sure they'll also take this into consideration.