Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has become the first carrier in Asia to operate the Boeing 737-800 single-aisle jetliner with the manufacturer’s brand new cabin, the Boeing Sky Interior.
The Kuala Lumpur-based airline, which has ordered 35 of the aircraft (with an additional 20 options) to replace its ageing fleet of 737-400s, took delivery of two in November. The third was set for delivery in December, while the rest will be handed over on a staggered schedule through to 2014.
The first two aircraft are based at MAS’s new hub in Eastern Malaysia, Kota Kinabalu International Airport. The aircraft are deployed on services to Tokyo’s Haneda airport and the South Korean capital Seoul.
The 737-800 cabins are configured in a two-class layout with 16 seats in business class and 144 in economy. The business-class seats offer a 42-inch pitch and are equipped with 10.6-inch LCD widescreen video monitors. In economy class, the seat-pitch is 30 inches and each seat has a 9-inch LCD screen.
MAS says it plans to exercise its purchase rights for some of the 20 aircraft on option. According to MAS Chief Executive Officer Tengku Azmil Zahruddin, the airline has yet to decide on the number.
The carrier has also not ruled out plans to acquire the larger 737-900ER, which accommodates 180 passengers in a typical two-class layout.
The new cabin interior is a Boeing initiative, aimed at offering passengers a superior travel experience. The company says the new interior is the result of many years’ of work by its employees and suppliers, guided by customer input.
According to John Hamilton, the 737 programme’s chief project engineer, Boeing started work on the interior with a number of studies while it was developing the interior for the new 787 Dreamliner.
“We looked at a refreshing experience that we could offer passengers with a new interior,” Hamilton told Asian Aviation in an interview in Seattle. Boeing decided to apply research done for the 787 interior to its single-aisle 737 Next Generation family.
“In late 2008, we visited a number of our key customers and shared with them some concepts and received some feedback from them,” Hamilton said.
The airlines recommended that the proposed blue sky lights should not be part of the basic design, instead stressing the need for enhanced security. Boeing took suggestions from customers to integrate added security features in the new cabin.
The Boeing Sky Interior was launched on the 737NG family in April 2009 with eight carriers. The eight are Malaysia Airlines, Air Berlin, Continental Airlines, Flydubai, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Lion Air, UI Travel Plc and GOL Airlines.
At press time 46 airlines and leasing companies had ordered the 737NG with the Boeing Sky Interior for more than 1,200 aircraft.
The Boeing Sky Interior cabin offers sculpted sidewalls and window reveals, while new, larger overhead bins accommodate more baggage than earlier designs, while taking up less cabin space. Hamilton said the innovative design of the new bins offers passengers more headroom and a greater sense of space in the cabin.
Airlines will select from a variety of lighting schemes that range from a soft-blue overhead sky simulation to a relaxing pallet of sunset colours. Traditional lighting is replaced by brighter light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
“With an estimated 40,000 hours between replacements, LEDs last 10 times longer than the previous standard lights, [offering] a significant saving on maintenance,” Hamilton pointed out. He said other features of the cabin include lower noise, intuitive placement of switches and call buttons, and new speakers in each passenger row, offering enhanced sound quality.
Boeing is now working on a package of performance improvements to the 737NG family that will reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions by 2 percent – making the aircraft a full 7 percent more efficient than the first 737NG that had its maiden flight in 1997.
Beverly Wise, 737 vice president and general manager said the performance improvements to the airframe and engine are beginning certification testing soon, and will be in operational service by early 2012.
As reported elsewhere in this issue (see feature, page 31) Boeing has not decided whether to offer a re-engined version of the 737NG or to replace it with a new single-aisle. “The 737NG, especially the -800 is so much in demand by large network operators and low cost airlines, improvements to the aircraft will continue to be made,” Hamilton said, adding that a decision could be made sometime in 2018.
The 737NG has been produced in four variants, the -600, -700, -800 and the -900ER.
Monthly production of the 737NG will be increased from 31.5 aircraft now to 35 in February 2012, rising to 38 in the second quarter of 2013. Key factors driving the accelerated production include Boeing’s backlog of more than 2,000 aircraft.
Boeing has yet to make a decision on whether to stop production of the -600 series, which went into commercial service in 1998. Hamilton acknowledged that orders for the -600 have been slow but the production line remains open to cater for any orders that may be received.