In 2015 Boeing determined that there was a niche in the market for a new aircraft design. Between the smallest Boeing 787, the 787-8, and the largest 737MAX is a gap in the market which they called the Boeing MoM (Middle of Market). Whilst Airbus expressed that they were covering this section of the market with their Airbus A321NEO and A320LR, Boeing felt there was a space in their fleet for a Boeing NMA (New Midsize Airplane).
Several airlines had approached Boeing to ask about a replacement for the aging Boeing 757 and Boeing 767. Boeing in discussions with these customers had indicated that they felt that there was a market for the MoM solution. It would be an all-new aircraft as opposed to a revamped Boeing 767.
By the time 2017 had rolled around, several airlines had expressed interest in a twin-aisle 7 seat abreast, elliptical fuselage cross-section aircraft using a high percentage of composite materials.
Early indicators were that the aircraft would be given the designation Boeing 797, rounding off that sequence of model numbers. There would likely be two variants, one with 225 seats and a range of 5,000nm (9,300km) and the other with 275 seats and a range of 4,500nm (8,300km). The expected price would be US$65-$75 million. Using new technology available today, the 797 would deliver around 30% more revenue and would realise a per trip saving in operating costs in the region of 40%. The hurdle, of course, would be the US$12-$15 Billion required for development.
By 2016, Boeing had two options on the table. Build a larger 737 or go with the all-new Boeing 797. At the 2016 International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading (ISTAT) conference in Phoenix, Arizona, Airbus’ Chief of Sales, John Leahy expressed that there was no need for an MoM aircraft as Airbus had this covered with the A321NEO. Boeing, on the other hand, identified a Middle of Market opportunity of 4,000-5,000 airframes, with a sweet spot lying in the 200-250 seat range and a flying range of 4,000 nm(7,400km). The aircraft would need to be powered by engines producing in the region of 40,000-45,000lbf(180-200kN) and be ready for service entry in the mid-2020s. The additional challenge for Boeing was that they already had their hands full with the development of the 777x as well as the 787-10, not to mention the trials and tribulations provided by the 737MAX. Airbus, as far as they were concerned, already had their solutions in place in the shape of the Airbus A321LR and A321NEO.
In 2017, at the ISTAT Americas Conference, United confirmed interest in the NMA concept. They visualised a twin-aisle configuration with two variants, a 225 seat version with a flying range of 4,800nm(8,900km) and a 260 seat variant with a flying range of 5,200nm(9,600km). Also expressing interest were Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Emirates.
At the 2017 Paris Air Show, Boeing announced that the 797 would use composite materials for the entire air-frame and that the new aircraft would be launched in 2019. The design would be completed in 2020, fabrication in 2021-2023, certification in 2024 and the introduction in 2025. So the 797 would not be available before 2025. Meanwhile, as we have pointed out, the 787 is too large to serve the purpose. It was even suggested that Boeing could possibly even realise a market demand of around 50 to 60 aircraft by restarting production of the 767-300ER.
In September of 2017, Boeing created a development program office for the 797 project and in November of that year they named 777x Chief Engineer Terry Beezhold to an unnamed role in the project. The introduction date was starting to look a little more like 2027.
In December the Governor of Washington State started lobbying Boeing to build the aircraft in that state. There was, however, still disagreement between Boeing, Airbus and engine makers on the actual size of this section of the market. Airbus saw it as being more around the 2,000 airframes mark. Considerably lower than Boeing’s estimation. This would not be enough to cover development which of course is every plane maker’s nightmare.
By 2018 the market was still confused about which direction Boeing would take. United envisaged a launch in 8 to 10 years. Delta for their part was hoping to be the launch customer as they are looking to replace their aging 757 and 767 fleets. In June Boeing announced that the NMA-6x would be a 228 seater with a 5,000nm(9,300km) and the NMA-7x would be a 267 seater (in two classes), with a range of 4,200nm (7,800km). A decision would be made mid-2019 about the actual go ahead and they still were looking for a 2025 delivery. That has come and gone.
Typically, new aircraft designs take 7.3 to 8.4 years from conception to introduction. This means that even if the go-ahead was given in 2019, there wouldn’t be a 797 rolling off the production line until 2026/27 at the earliest. Airlines like Delta have their hands full of 757s and 767s which are anything up to 30 years old now. These aircraft will have to be replaced by current aircraft models on offer, as they simply won’t last the distance until the 797 is available. This would leave around 910 of these older aircraft in the 15-25-year-old range that could use the 797 as a potential replacement.
Boeing is reported to be in discussion with around 50 potential airline customers, although there still seems to be a vast range in the perception of how many aircraft the market can potentially support. Depending who’s opinion is being offered, the range is anything from 1,500 to 5,000 air-frames. This is a critical thing to get right, as Boeing does need to make a financial return on the whole project. A typical example is the Airbus A380 which came to market just as the tide was turning against large 4 engine jets. Expected sales that were counted on to recover development costs were not realised as sales dried up and existing customers shortened their orders. With a target price of US$65-$75 million to make the 797 palatable to the market, the math is simple to work out how many aircraft need to be sold to recover costs and start making a profit.
Boeing has, in the conceptual design, taken advantage of the technologies gained and lessons learned is their past and current developments. The 797, as released in 2018, used the 737 MAX tail cone, the larger windows as seen on the 787 and 777x, 757 windscreen and the 767 door configuration. There is still no fixed message form Boeing on the fuselage design, whether it be single or twin aisle, cylindrical or elliptical.
Boeing 797 Specs.
Whilst concrete information is not currently available we will update this table as design points are firmed up.
|Boeing||797 NMA 6x||797 NMA 7x|
|Passengers (2 Class)||228||267|
|Expected Service Entry||2025||2025|
Let’s hope that Boeing can come up with a winning design and get it to market in the right way in the right time.
We will continue to update this page as more is learned. Please feel free to add any comments around news you might have heard.