The recent history of airliners is full of suc- cess stories, technological and commer- cial. The Boeing 747 was the driving force behind air travel becoming a mass phenomenon; twin-engine widebodies such as the Airbus A330
and Boeing 777 followed and pushed the boundaries
of efficiency, allowing airlines to broaden their long-haul networks. The Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 then
reached unprecedented sales success by making short-haul flying affordable to a much wider customer base.
Producing a viable “in-between” aircraft appears to be
the last conceptual frontier. Tere have been numerous
attempts to build an aircraft larger than a typical 737 and
smaller than a widebody that is an economic success. Te
Airbus A300 and A310 failed, as have derivatives such
as the Boeing 757-300. Te Boeing 787-3, although
launched and provisionally ordered, was never built.
As Boeing slowly nears a decision on whether to
launch the proposed new midmarket airplane (NMA),
the challenge is to build an aircraft even more successful
and capable than the 757-200—the midmarket design
that worked in its time but was discontinued in 2004.
Developing a concept that takes into account all of the
technical requirements as well as the market and network
dynamics is a complex engineering feat.
Given how difcult it has been to meet all the require-
ments of that segment and the pressing issues in Boe-
ing’s traditional narrowbody aircraft positioning, some
argue that the company is focusing its resources on the
wrong project. One view is that Boeing is addressing a
market that is much smaller than it envisions. Tat posi-
tion received strong corroboration from participants in
a joint survey conducted by Bank of America Merrill
Lynch and Aviation Week. Results indicate airlines want
an aircraft that resembles a more capable successor to the
737 rather that the 757.
Many statements—including by airline chiefs
Carsten Spohr (Lufthansa), Tim Clark (Emirates) and
Akbar Al Baker (Qatar Airways)—suggest part of the
market has yet to be convinced of the NMA’s merits.
And of concern for Boeing, executives of 72% of the
surveyed airlines say aircraft other than the NMA would
best meet their midmarket requirements. Among them
are the A321neo, the proposed A321neo-plus-plus (more
capacity, more range), the 737-10, and even the A330neo
and a derated 787-8 if they were to be ofered for less
than $100 million.
While Boeing has been quieter about the NMA than
during the initial phase of studies—and a formal launch,
if it happens, is not expected until 2019—all indications
are the company is willing to make the multibillion-dol-lar bet that its reading of the market is accurate.
Kevin McAllister, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO since November 2016, is the key fgure
behind the project.
“I think Boeing will do it, partly because Kevin
[McAllister] is so keen to launch it,” one senior industry
McAllister apparently told colleagues on several occa-
sions that the NMA was one of the major attractions of
his new job. However, as a business case, “we’re not there
yet,” McAllister said. “I think the right activity is hap-
pening to pull the right information together. And we’ll
make it when it’s time.”
Few details about the aircraft have emerged. What
the concrete NMA plans look like is not only a secret
externally, but also to most inside Boeing. A source with
knowledge of the matter says only top-level Commercial
Airplanes executives are briefed and/or involved.
“Tere is a shadow organization that deals with
Will Boeing launch a midmarket aircraft? BY JENS FLOTTAU