Boeing has landed approval from its board to put a new engine in its 737, matching a competing plane offered by Airbus and giving its best-selling plane the fuel efficiency that airlines crave.
Boeing said Tuesday that it has received commitments from five airlines for 496 airplanes with the new engines. Its shares rose more than 2 percent in midday trading.
The decision has been expected since last month, when American Airlines said it would buy 100 of the new-engine 737s if Boeing builds them. The airline, a unit of Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR Corp., said it intends to order at least 460 new jets, including 200 from Boeing and 260 from Airbus. The deal ended Boeing's exclusive grip on the fleet of the country's third-largest airline.
Boeing, based in Chicago, is a massive company that typically plans years in advance for airplanes it will build for decades. As recently as May it said it was leaning toward building an all-new replacement for the 737 rather than putting a new engine in it. A growing number of orders for a competing plane made by Airbus -- capped by American's willingness to place a big order -- forced Boeing's hand.
Deliveries of the new 737 are scheduled to begin in 2017. Boeing said it would use Leap-1B engines made by CFM International.
It says the "re-engined" 737 will have lower operating costs than similar airplanes, including Airbus' comparable single-aisle jet, the A320. Airbus calls its new-engine version the A320neo, for "new engine option."
Boeing says its re-engined 737 will burn 4 percent less fuel than the A320neo.
The 737 is assembled in Renton, Wash., and the A320 in Toulouse, France. Both planes are already in such high demand that their makers are boosting production to 42 per month -- Boeing in 2014, Airbus by early next year.
Boeing shares rose $1.43, or 2.2 percent, to $66.03 a share on Tuesday.