To be or not to be: Boeing’s new mid-range jet, the 797
For years, it has been widely reported that Boeing is working on plans for a new mid-range aircraft dubbed by the industry as the 797. And we have been very eager to hear the details about the new jetliner and get a glimpse at its design. Now, the U.S. plane maker is said to be considering development of two jetliners for what is to eventually become the Boeing 797 Family and is also currently seeking proposals from engine manufacturers. Although the industry giant has yet to formally commit to producing the 797, it sees the brand-new mid-size mid-range aircraft taking to the skies by 2025. At least, that is the plan. But will it come to fruition?
It has been less than seven years since the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing’s last all-new jetliner, took to the skies. The long-haul mid-size wide-body jet opened nearly 200 non-stop routes with its range of up to 7,635 nautical miles (14,140 km). And it will be more than another year till we see Boeing’s brand new jetliner, the 777X, currently under development, entering into service and becoming the first twin-engine jet capable of carrying up to 425 passengers halfway around the world - the range of this airliner will be up to 8,700 nautical miles (16,110 km).
But for Boeing’s next aircraft, the company will focus on the overlooked "middle market" instead of previous ambitions for long range: a jetliner that would be designed for the eight- to 10-hour travel, on routes such as New York to Los Angeles in the U.S., or medium-range flights connecting the U.S., say, Chicago, to cities in Europe, rather than the up to 17-hour non-stop flight from Perth (Australia) to London (the UK) on the 787-9 Dreamliner.
According to Forbes, Boeing has been studying the market potential for a new mid-size airliner - which has been tagged as the 797 program in the industry - to satisfy demand replacing its outdated 757s and 767s. For the new mid-market aircraft or the "NMA", Boeing is considering a two-jet family from 220 to 270 seats designed for mid-range routes.
According to Investor’s Business Daily, the first, smaller jet, called NMA-6X, would be a single-aisle 228-seat medium-range jetliner with a range of 5,000 nautical miles (9,260 km). The second, larger model, the NMA-7X, would seat 267 in a two-class configuration, but its range would be shorter, 4,200 nautical miles (7,778 km). Both concepts would comprise the Boeing 797 Family.
Boeing’s rival on the other side of the pond, Airbus, has already been making inroads into the niche (middle) market by increasing the range of its narrow-body jetliner, the 244-seat A321neo which has a range of up to 4,000 nautical miles (7,400 km). Boeing‘s new single-aisle jet would therefore (yet again) be pitched as a direct competitor to Airbus’ best-selling A320 Family – the A321neo and A321LR.
During a press briefing ahead of the Farnborough Airshow in the UK, on July 6, 2018, Airbus presented its updated market outlook and raised questions over the need for a middle market jet from Boeing. According to Forbes, the European plane maker argued that the extended range of new generations of existing aircraft give airlines all the capacity they require for a range of operations (hence the introduction of the A321LR "long range" variant).
Nevertheless, the 797 – a plane that does not even exist yet – should weigh heavily over the discussions at this week’s Farnborough Airshow (July 16-22), where the jet is expected to be launched. Afterall, Boeing released the first image of its new "middle-market airplane" at the Paris Air Show in 2017.
Whatever rival Airbus’ arguments may be, the 797 still requires approval from Boeing's own board. So hold your horses, because an official decision on whether to go forward with the program would not be made until 2019, CEO Dennis Muilenburg told reporters on July 15, 2018, Bloomberg reports. But if the NMA jets get a go-ahead from Boeing's board, they would officially be launched in 2019.
Muillenberg has set expectations of a demand for more than 4,000 of these new small twin- and single-aisle jets over the next 20 years, starting from 2025 when the 797 would first enter the market with airlines (with flight tests and certification to be completed in 2024), according to CNN Money.
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