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Boeing is set to decide on a new wing for the B737 within six months, the new wing under investigation being an all-composite structure. The principal rationale for a new wing would be to save production costs. Production rates of the B737NG are at an all time high. The payback period for such a substantial investment could therefore be considered sufficiently short to warrant go-ahead. The weight saving potential is also considerable. Weight saving translates into fuel economy, better range, more payload, and better take-off performance. Similar in size to the current B737 Next Generation (B737NG) wing, the composite structure would allow easier incorporation of aerodynamic efficiencies. Composite structures, while light, can be problematical to develop where exceptional strength is required – i.e. the wing. Research by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Phantom Works are contributing to the technology necessary for the design change. The United States is keen to make certain that funding of the A3XX is kept on a clear commercial basis. Similarly, the European Union (EU) may wish to see how the technology potentially to be used by Boeing has also been funded. Flight-testing of the composite wing could begin as early as 2003 with an Entry Into Service (EIS) date of 2004. With the B737NG only having recently entered service, a major change in specification may seem premature. Yet current and envisaged production rates of the B737NG would see year 2000 deliveries equal those for the entire B737 Current Generation (B737CG) by 2005. The 2000 deliveries of the B737CG took 16 years to achieve. At envisaged rates, the B737NG will take half this time. The combination of engine and wing changes could represent a potent improvement in aircraft performance. Airbus would have to seek a response. With funding of the A3XX already taxing the new structure of the European maker, managing a major upgrade to the A320 family would place further pressures on a still evolving organization.
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