Boeing in early discussions on new aircraft

Boeing is reportedly in early discussions about developing a new commercial aircraft. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, the aircraft manufacturer has started holding conversations with customers — including leasing companies and suppliers — about potential interest in a single-aisle aircraft with improved engines that could carry between 200 and 250 passengers. That would fall between Boeing’s 737 MAX and twin-aisle 787 Dreamliner. 

Discussions are still in the preliminary stages, with no confirmation on Boeing’s front as of yet. Indeed, new aircraft can take years to develop from an idea to fully supported development programme, then even longer to move into production. In fact, Boeing hasn’t launched a new commercial aircraft since the Dreamliner in 2004, which was first delivered in 2011.

A “clean sheet of paper” for Boeing

Boeing had initially hoped to fill the market gap between the 737 MAX and the 787 Dreamliner with what it had tentatively dubbed the ‘NMA’ — New Midsize Airplane. 

Talks for the NMA started in 2015, with the aircraft expected to be a twin-aisle jet, sized between the 757 and 767 to compete with Airbus’ A321neo. However, plans for the NMA were swiftly dropped in 2019 when Boeing was forced to shift its focus to the MAX programme following the crash of two MAX aircraft and the crisis than ensued. 

In January this year, Boeing Chief Executive David Calhoun told reporters that the NMA was dead, and that the company would “start with a clean sheet of paper”.

The new discussions come as Boeing is on the verge of a regulatory signoff for the MAX to recommence passenger operations. The prolonged grounding of the MAX since March 2019 led to a halt in production and deliveries, triggering an onslaught of cancellations for the aircraft. Boeing has been left trailing the rival A320neo family in the narrowbody market as a result. 

Airbus has had particiular success with the bigger A321neo, including the A321 LR (long range) and XLR (extra-long range), which together have amassed 3,063 orders. 

A new ‘middle market’ jet could, therefore, bring Boeing back into the game, and with a global tendency now for smaller, more fuel-efficient narrowbody aircraft, scrapping the twin-aisle NMA and developing an all-new aircraft could reap benefits for the manufacturer. 

Of course, all talk is still speculation, and considering both the 737 MAX crisis and current global pandemic, a new aircraft is unlikely at the top of Boeing’s list of priorities. 

Nonetheless, it is interesting to see the Boeing hasn’t yet closed all its doors and is still looking to the future; in August, Boeing Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith told analysts the company was reassessing its product-development strategy to determine what aircraft its customers will want in the future.

“We haven’t lost sight of it, and we won’t”’ Smith said. “We’ll make the right investments at the right time to maintain a competitive advantage with the product offerings that we have”.