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Boeing entertains a 737 flight deck makeover (Update1)

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ZHUHAI -- With six 737s with Boeing's new Sky Interior now handed over to airlines, the airframer is looking ahead to what's next and may be turning its attention to updating the narrowbody's front office.

With a re-engining decision pushed out following a tepid response from its customer base, Boeing is examining a host of incremental improvements to the 737 as it ups its output over the next three years.

"We think we can incremental improvements that keep us competitive with even an A320 re-engine and it might be something we'd have to do as a combination of passenger appeal, flight deck, as well as weight and fuel efficiency improvements," says Beverly Wyse, 737 program vice president and general manager.

General Electric Aviation provided a glimpse into the possible future of the business end of the 737, bringing a mockup to Airshow China of an updated 737 Next Generation flight deck that consolidates today's six 7in liquid crystal displays into three large 787-style 15.4in panels for improved surveillance, communications and situational awareness.

Under the GE plan, the primary flight and navigation displays would be consolidated into the outboard screens while the Common Display System would become more of an Engine Indication and Crew Alerting system (EICAS) combined with an electronic checklist on the center display.

While the GE Aviation mockup features a side-stick controller, the company acknowledge that it took creative liberties on this point and fully expects the Boeing yoke to remain.

John Hamilton, 737 chief engineer, says a new 737 flight deck may be an attractive option that could be done with little transition time for pilots. Additionally, Hamilton sees a maintenance cost benefit by consolidating the number of parts and spares required for the flight deck.

Though, Hamilton says a new flight deck for the 737 isn't a sure thing: "Does it make sense to bring in a large display for the flight deck? That's is one the things we'll take a look at."

Southwest Airlines has already elected to add two outboard 15.4in glass displays to their 737-300 fleet for the carrier's RNP transition. A GE Aviation representative said the center screen was not selected to save cost on the fleet retrofit. The first example is expected to enter service early next year.

Boeing was selected by Southwest as lead integrator on the project, and could leave open the door for a possible dual application by the airframer for a line-fit option on its 737s.

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