Hints about Boeing developing a new aircraft, dubbed the Boeing New Midsize Airplane (NMA) or the Middle of the Market (MOM) aircraft, have been around for quite a while. In 2015, the now-retired Boeing Commercial Airplanes sales chief, John Wojick, commented that the manufacturer is looking at the possibility to develop a new aircraft for the middle market.

But now, reports have emerged that Boeing is also looking into the possibility to steer away from the NMA and improve the 767 instead. Reportedly, the foundation of the re-engined aircraft would be the 767-400ER, with General Electric’s (GE) GEnx engines powering the newest iteration of the wide-body, which made its first commercial flight with United Airlines in 1982. The main focus of the 767-X study is a freighter – however, as FlightGlobal reports, the Chicago-based offices are also lingering around with the idea to apply the 767-X case to carry passengers as well.

During AIR Convention Europe, Drew Magil, the Boeing Commercial Airplanes Managing director for Marketing in Europe, highlighted that Boeing’s strategy “has always been to cover the market with a complete line of planes”, adding that the company has “a complete lineup”. Yet Magil also touched upon the fact that there is “a strong market between the 737 and the 787”, something the company calls “the middle market”.

“More range than the 757, bigger than the 737, smaller than the 787”, Magil described the potential aircraft. While the NMA is what Boeing “is talking to airlines about”, Airbus is already amassing orders for three aircraft, which serve the market’s requirements: the A330-800, A321XLR and the A321LR. The former is a wide-body, typically seating between 220 and 260 passengers on board. The LR and XLR typically seat between 180 and 220 passengers, but the A321XLR can fit up to 244 passengers in a single-class layout, according to Airbus.

Up until now, it was an open secret that Boeing plans to  build a new aircraft to serve the middle market. However, with sources indicating that Boeing is also looking into the 767 re-engine, nobody knows what is in Boeing’s box labeled Middle of the Market aircraft.

Changing flight paths

But why are both manufacturers so keen to serve the middle of the market, with an aircraft, which Ron Baur who served as United Airlines’ Vice President in Fleet Management between 2010 and 2017, described as a “757 on steroids”?

Simply put, the aviation industry is slowly shifting away from the hub-and-spoke model. As air travel becomes more accessible due to cheapening costs and economic growth around the globe, the number of city pairs connected has also increased drastically. In 2018, around 22,000 city pairs were connected with scheduled flights, according to IATA, amounting to an increase of 1,300 direct connections compared to 2017, or an increase of more than 10,000 compared to 2000. Mainline carriers are venturing into direct, point-to-point flights on routes, which were previously too thin to operate, but still do not have enough demand for wide-body aircraft or are unreachable by the most popular narrow-bodies, the 737 or the A320.