Continental's December 29 delivery flight marks completion of 13 deliveries of new 737s to the first five launch customers for the new 737 Boeing...

Continental Airlines is to become the first U.S.-based carrier to operate a Boeing 737 with the new Boeing Sky Interior after taking delivery on December 29 of a 737-800 fitted with the new interior.

The new Continental Airlines Boeing 737-800  features the new United Airlines livery, because Continental is soon to be merged operationally with United Airlines under the United name. Both carriers are now subsidiaries of United Continental Holdings, Inc. after completing their corporate merger on October 1.

Continental’s December 29 delivery flight marks completion of 13 deliveries of new 737s to the first five launch customers for the new 737 Boeing Sky Interior. The aircraft also marks a new record for 737 yearly deliveries, becoming the 376th new 737 delivered by Boeing in 2010. The manufacturer’s previous annual record for 737 deliveries was 372 aircraft in 2009.

“We are proud to be the first carrier in North America to introduce the brand-new Boeing Sky Interior to our customers,” says Ron Baur, United’s fleet vice president. “The new lighting and sculpted side panels give the 737 a modern and more spacious look, while providing increased overhead storage space.”

On December 29, 2010 Continental Airlines became the first U.S. airline to take delivery of a Boeing 737NG fitted with the new Boeing Sky Interior. Boeing delivered a total of 13 737NGs fitted with the new interior to five customers in 2010

The 737 Boeing Sky Interior is part of Boeing’s strategy to improve the 737 continuously for both airlines and passengers by making it more efficient and economical to operate and maintain and more comfortable for passengers. Today’s Next-Generation 737 operators fly 737s that are 5 per cent more fuel-efficient than the first Next-Generation 737s delivered in 1998, and Boeing says another 2 per cent improvement is on the way.

In mid-November, another 737-800, also in the new United Airlines livery, successfully completed an early flight test to begin certification of the aerodynamic and engine changes that will result in the 2 per cent fuel-efficiency improvement. Testing and certification will continue through April 2011. Boeing is phasing into production the performance improvement package, in a process that the company says will begin in mid-2011 and continue through early 2012.

According to Boeing, 1 per cent of the additional fuel savings comes from reducing resistance as air flows around the aircraft. The company has changed the shape of the 737NG’s upper and lower anti-collision lights from a round shape to a more aerodynamic, elongated teardrop shape. Wheel-well fairings are to be re-contoured to smooth the airflow near the aircraft’s main landing gear. A redesign of the 737’s environmental control system, exhaust vent and streamlined wing-slat and spoiler trailing edges complete the aerodynamic changes.

Meanwhile, engine manufacturer CFM International (a joint venture between General Electric and France’s Snecma) is introducing the new CFM56-7BE engine enhancement program to coincide with Boeing’s airframe changes. Low- and high-pressure turbine modifications will result in a 1 per cent reduction in fuel consumption. In addition, Boeing is optimizing the engine’s primary nozzle and plug. Together, the changes result in cooler-running engines that may provide up to 4 per cent lower maintenance costs, according to Boeing.

The CFM56-7BE engine is currently undergoing a 10,000-cycle endurance test at Snecma facilities in Villaroche, France. The test should be complete in early 2011. These tests simulate conditions far more extreme than would be experienced in commercial service to validate the reliability and durability of the hardware, Boeing says.