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Feature Story

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Boeing technicians install the new CFM56-7BE engine on an enhanced Next-Generation 737. The engine is part of a package of performance improvement to cut fuel consumption and carbon emissions 2% later this year.

Video: Boeing 737 puts on more fuel-efficient engine

A special Next-Generation 737 flying over Seattle these days looks identical to all the other Boeing 737s being delivered daily. But maintenance technician Patrick Cappetto can tell you it is quite different.

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Boeing/Jerry Lewandowski

A special Boeing Next-Generation 737 that's fitted with the more fuel-efficient CFM56-7BE engine takes off from Seattle for a test flight.

"It has a brand new engine that hasn't been out in production yet," he said.

Weeks earlier, Cappeto and a team of technicians slowly lifted the new CFM56-7BE engine underneath the wing of a 737 test airplane. The airplane's more aerodynamic airframe, combined with the new engine, promise to reduce the 737's fuel consumption and carbon emissions by 2% when it enters into production starting in mid-2011.

"We've got to make sure we take our time and do it right," explained Boeing technician Todd Wanrnstadt while handling the engine as it moved into place.

The 2-percent reduction in fuel consumption is projected to save airlines $125,000 per airplane, per year.

The CFM56-7BE engine is a more fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly version of the current 7B production engine.

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CFM International

The new CFM56-7BE uses less fuel thanks in large part to an improved high-pressure compressor, high-pressure turbine and low-pressure turbine (redesigned sections highlighted in red).

To improve the 7B's performance, CFM International, a partnership of General Electric and Snecma (SAFRAN Group), redesigned both the high-pressure and low-pressure turbines using 3-D computer technology.

"These tools allow us to improve the airflow around the turbine blades," explained Kris Shepard of CFM International. "The smoother we can make the airflow, the better fuel-efficiency we can achieve."

The overall 2-percent reduction in fuel consumption is projected to save airlines $125,000 per airplane, per year. This adds up to a 7-percent cut of the Next-Generation 737's fuel use since the first airplane entered service in 1998.

Environmentally speaking, 2 percent equals 470 tons less carbon emitted per airplane annually.

"These are just some examples of some of the great ideas we've been able to package together and create a really exciting package for the customers that adds value for them," said 737 Chief Project Engineer John Hamilton.

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Boeing/Bernard Choi

To test the new CFM56-7BE engine, the Boeing Test & Evaluation team will perform 9 engine changes to see how the powerplant performs in different configurations.

Environmentally speaking, 2 percent equals 470 tons less carbon emitted per airplane annually, according to CFM International. If an airline has to pay a carbon tax, that translates into $11,700 a year at $25 a ton per airplane.

Moreover, airlines will be able to save up to 4 percent in maintenance costs because the higher-performing turbine blades mean the engine needs fewer of them - 9 percent fewer in the low-pressure turbine and 5 percent fewer in the high-pressure turbine.

Last year, the 7BE engine was jointly certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency. The final step is for the engine to be flight tested with the 737 test airplane. Over the next couple of months, the engine will be tested incrementally and in different configurations, requiring 9 engine changes.

"Each time we change engines, it will be a different version of that engine," said Cappetto. "We are testing to see if it performs the way it's supposed to for the customer."