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BOEING/Bernard Choi

The U.S. carrier is retrofitting 76 Next-Generation 737s for a new look and more seats.

American Airlines partners with Boeing on 737 makeover

By Bernard Choi

With a series of giant hangars spread out over a sprawling campus, American Airlines' commercial maintenance facility in Tulsa, Okla., is the largest in the world.

787 Dreamliner windows

BOEING/Bernard Choi

An American Airlines mechanic installs a new ceiling panel inside a Next-Generation 737 at the carrier's maintenance facility in Tulsa, Okla.

But even some of the veteran maintenance technicians here are in awe of the carrier's latest makeover challenge.

"It's a huge project," said Sattar Hussein, the technical crew chief overseeing the retrofitting of 76 Next-Generation 737s. "This is a major modification that has to deal with the [plane's] avionics and structures."

The carrier is refurbishing the cabins of almost its entire fleet of Next-Generation 737s. To give the jets a fresh look, crews are installing new seats, new ceiling panels, new carpets, new in-flight entertainment systems and new passenger power outlets.

"It's safe to say passengers are going to get a new airplane -- a new feel definitely. Everything the passenger is going to see is brand-new," said Jim Griffin, a senior engineering manager for American Airlines.

"It helps give the planes a new, crisper look."
Michelle Hawkins, Boeing mechanic

The plan also calls for stripping out some galleys in the back of the cabin to make room for 12 additional seats on each jetliner. This part of the project involves moving the lavatories and extending the seat tracks, moves that require drilling down into the floor beams of the plane.

787 Dreamliner windows

BOEING/Bernard Choi

Boeing mechanic Michelle Hawkins works on the doors of new airplane stowbins, some of which will end up on American Airlines' refurbished 737s.

With such a massive modification, American called in the engineers and technicians who know the Next-Generation 737 inside and out.

"Boeing helped us identify all of the changes that need to be made to make these older airplanes look and feel just like the new ones," Griffin said.

While Boeing's Commercial Aviation Services organization is providing engineering support, the company's Fabrication organization is churning out new interior parts for all 76 airplanes.

"When people ask me what I do, I tell them I make the bins that they put their luggage in," said Boeing mechanic Michelle Hawkins.

Hawkins works at Boeing's Interiors Responsibility Center in Everett, Wash. Inside the large building, Hawkins and her colleagues manufacture stowbins, sidewalls and ceiling panels for airplane cabins.

"This is a less expensive option for the carrier to retrofit its planes..."
Adam Grim, Boeing project manager

While most of the parts are destined for the new airplanes that are assembled a few doors down in the main Boeing factory, a number of these parts make their way onto planes that are already flying.

"It helps give the planes a new, crisper look," Hawkins said.

787 Dreamliner windows

BOEING/Bernard Choi

At Boeing's Interiors Responsibility Center in Everett, Wash., mechanics churn out stowbins, sidewalls and ceiling panels for airplanes.

These aftermarket parts and services help airlines refresh their fleets without having to buy brand-new airplanes. And in this case, there is the added bonus of more seats, which means more revenue.

"It's very cool," said Adam Grim, a Boeing project manager who is helping coordinate the American Airlines retrofit. "This is a less expensive option for the carrier to retrofit its planes to make them more customer friendly, more pleasing to the eye and hopefully generate more income for the airline."

The new parts are being shipped to American Airlines in stages as the carrier is retrofitting several planes at a time.

The maintenance crew recently finished remodeling the first airplane. American plans to have all 76 jetliners refurbished next year.