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Will Boeing’s mid-market aircraft spur new business models?

written by Jordan Chong | June 27, 2018

A concept of how the NMA might look. (Camil Valiquette/simviation.com)
A concept of how the NMA might look. (Camil Valiquette/simviation.com)

Boeing’s proposed new widebody aircraft will help transform airline networks and help unlock yet-to-be-discovered new business models, a senior executive from the aerospace giant says.

In 2017, Boeing formally established a program office for its new mid-market aircraft (NMA) that some have labelled the 797.

The study into the much-discussed but yet‑to‑be‑officially-launched NMA was focused on a two-aircraft family that would carry between 225-275 passengers anywhere from 4,500-5,000nm. It would be powered by an engine capable of producing 50,000lb of thrust.

Entry into service is projected to occur in the 2024 to 2025 timeframe.

The airframer’s initial estimates for the NMA suggested there might be a market for about 4,000 aircraft. Some aviation analysts, who might define the market differently, have put forward a number closer to 2,500.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes senior managing director for marketing analysis and sales support Darren Hulst said one of the common themes that had emerged in discussions with airline customers so far about the proposed NMA was the size of the aircraft.

The differences of opinion centred around the aircraft’s potential range and capacity.


“Airlines are looking for something that is bigger than a single aisle aircraft by 10 to 30 per cent and smaller than the widebodies of today,” Hulst told media on the sidelines of the recent International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting in Sydney on June 3.

“Where there is some difference in desire from customers, from airlines, is some airlines want it for the size, some airlines want it for range.

“They want it to be able to fly 5,000 miles, to be able to fly these medium distances where widebodies have too much capability today and too much cost and the single aisles run out of capability in terms of range.

“Some airlines are focused on the revenue in terms of getting more capacity into routes whether that is short-, medium- or long-haul.”

Hulst said the proposed NMA had the potential to create new business models and airline networks in the way aircraft such as the 777 and 787 (or indeed the 747 if one goes further back in history) did.

For example, a low-cost carrier could expand into widebody operations without having to acquire long-haul aircraft.

Or a big network carrier could choose to add capacity on short-haul or medium-haul routes at slot-constrained airports through upgauging to larger equipment.

There was also the opportunity to open up new point-to-point markets to so-called secondary cities with an aircraft best able to match capacity with demand in those markets.

“What’s interesting to us is how many different ways airlines can see a use for an airplane in that space,” Hulst said.

“I think our imagination might not be strong enough to figure out what else could be done with an airplane in that space.”

A concept of how the NMA might look. (Camil Valiquette/simviation.com)
A concept of how the NMA might look. (Camil Valiquette/simviation.com)

Qantas among others to express early interest in NMA

As far as Qantas is concerned, NMA looms as an ideal replacement for its A330 fleet on domestic routes, both on transcontinental services between Perth and the east coast, and to increase capacity on the main trunk routes out of the increasingly busy Sydney Airport.

“It’s still a paper aircraft so Boeing have to define the spec of it, the weight of it, the performance and the price of it, but it looks like it’s being pitched as an aircraft that would work very well in the domestic market,” Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce said in February.

“It is a lighter aircraft than some of the widebody twin-aisles that we have today. It has a range that’s designed to fly trans-continental and maybe into South-East Asia.”

Other airlines too have given the proposed aircraft the thumbs up.

“You’re going to see us participate in Boeing’s middle-of-the-market campaign,” Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian said in February, according to Bloomberg.

“I hope that we’re going to be a launch customer on that program as well.”

The NMA could be just right for the Qantas domestic fleet, slotting between the 737-800 and A330/787 for ‘golden triangle’ Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane trunk and transcontinental routes. (Seth JaworskI)
The NMA could be just right for the Qantas domestic fleet, slotting between the 737-800 and A330/787 for ‘golden triangle’ Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane trunk and transcontinental routes. (Seth JaworskI)

By contrast, Qantas’s local rival Virgin Australia was more circumspect when asked about the NMA in February.

“We will look at everything,” CEO John Borghetti told reporters during the airline’s results presentation.

“The one thing that is for sure is that the 737 will absolutely be the backbone of the domestic fleet, or the short-haul fleet if you will, for the group for many, many years to come.”

Hulst said the NMA had the potential to play a “key role in the growth and evolution” of the networks of carriers in this part of the world.

“Specifically in Australia, New Zealand, I think it is a really compelling, kind of interesting opportunity,” Hulst said.

“You have sort of the medium-haul routes, like a transcontinental Australia, trans-Tasman type airplane, also with the range capability to fly as far as somewhere like Japan, into and beyond places like Singapore and secondary markets in South East Asia.

“It becomes a really compelling opportunity from both the size and in terms of efficiency and capability.

Further, Hulst said there would be significant per trip and per seat cost advantages to having an aircraft designed for these medium-haul routes compared with existing aircraft.

“Today’s widebodies like the 787, even the A330, those airplanes are designed to fly 6,000, 7,000, 8,000 nautical miles, which means they have structure, it means they have got weight in the aircraft to enable them to fly that far.

“If you optimise an airplane to fly the medium ranges, so like a 3,000-5,000-mile mission, which is enough to get you into Japan, get you into East Asia, you’ll have significant cost savings as well as the fact that it would be designed smaller than those aircraft in terms of seat capacity.

“So you are talking about double digit cost savings relative to those current widebodies.”

World waits for NMA launch

While the world waits for the official launch of the program, Boeing continues its discussions with airline customers and the technical work on the design of the aircraft.

Respected analysis website Leeham News and Comment said on June 25 Boeing was not expected to launch the NMA program at the upcoming Farnborough International Airshow, which starts on July 16.

There are also conversations being had with the key engine manufacturers on the design of a likely 50,000lb thrust powerplant.

And despite the likes of Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce and CFM having well-documented issues with engines on types such as the Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX and Boeing 787, Hulst said these were unlikely to present any significant challenges for launching the NMA program.

“There is interest from engine suppliers to make an engine in this space,” Hulst said.

“I would say that’s not necessarily the pacing item for the decision or for the launch.”

Meanwhile, it was reported in June Airbus was mulling modifications to its existing A321LR narrowbody to give the aircraft extra range as a preemptive strike against the NMA.

The April edition of Australian Aviation featured a story on Boeing’s proposed NMA. It can be read here. Meanwhile, digital editions of the magazine can be purchased here, on Zinio and Issuu, or in the Apple app store.


  • Ian Morris


    Sounds like an updated, modernised version of the Airbus A310 in nearly all respects…

  • Deano969


    Won’t work
    Need a twin isle for faster turn around

  • Dala


    Exacty. Original A300 was a thoroughly studied aircraft (size & weight) to carry 250 – 300 pax to fly “MID-RANGE” up to 5000NM efficiently for European continental and trans Atlantic, or to northern part of Africa.

    A lighten-up A330NEO will be the quick answer from Airbus to the NMA project lunch. People alreay love them on the Perth-east coast flight. Just to shade some weight and an new fuel efficient engine for the Airline accountant to like them too.

  • James


    @ Dean0969

    Pretty sure it is supposed to be a twin aisle?

  • Rod Pickin


    What about a bit of retro, still in production, well proven and versatile; – The B767-300ER with CF6 power plants

  • Paule


    What ever this new aircraft ends up being, the turnaround time is crucial, particularly if Qantas want it for MEL/SYD/BNE. As beautiful an aircraft the A321 is, the single isle means excruciatingly long loading and disembarkation at airports in Europe where it is used on flight of about 2 to 3 hours. I think a twin isle, medium range/medium sized aircraft will be a winner for Boeing.

  • Chris


    The proposed B797 or NMA project is an entry level twin aisle aircraft in 2-3-2 seating configuration seating 240 to 290 similar to the B767-200/300 and would be the link between the B737 and B787 families.

    Boeing has said in the past the new NMA aircraft type with use the technology from the B787 programme like the big windows, low cabin pressure, cabin interior and a flight deck similar to the B787 allowing quick pilot conversion from the ‘B797’ to the B787.

    I would suspect the ‘B797’ would be planned and built around the operational specifications of the B767-300 and be available in 2 models – -8 (similar to B767-200) and -9 (similar to B767-300) and possibility in the future a -10 (similar to B767-400).

    It will be interesting to see what Airbus will do when Boeing finally releases the ‘B797’ to the market.

    With regards to the B757 replacement, Airbus has in essence captured the B757 market with the A321neo/A321neoLR and possibility the A321nelXLR.

  • John Reid


    @Rod – exactly, bring on 767MAX!

  • Andrew


    CCQ with the 787 & the new 777-8/9 means one pool of pilots and even further savings .
    Winner, winner , chicken dinner!

  • Tony Pearce


    Going back quite a few years ago Air New Zealand used to use 767’s Auckland to Christchurch at peak times and speaking to a pilot he said the turn around compared to a single aisle, probably a 737 was considerably higher with the a 767. Not comparing aples with apples but I’d be interested if there have been studies that prove which concept is the most efficent for loading and unloading. I have long thought the 797 brief seemed very similar to Air Buses A300 spec all those years ago.

  • Len Woods


    Russia mc-21 narrow body aircraft soon to be in airline service has a cabin wide enough to allow 5 abreast seating with two aisles. This aircraft would be perfect for domestics flights. It would have fast turn around times its advance fuel efficent design. This aircraft should be popular with passengers and airlines. This aircraft could be stretched to allow over 200 seats and 4000 nm range. This aircraft needs to added to the list of aircraft to be operated in this country.

  • Rod Pickin


    To ensure speedy pax turnarounds with a B767-300 it would have to have doors 1 and 2 left fwd of the wing ie same configuration as the B767-336 as opposed to the B767-338.or B767-319. With appropriate ground staff monitoring disembarking and embarking times would then be almost the same as the B737.

  • Patrickk


    The issue with a redone 767 or A330neo is that it would have to have more composite sections, to keep the weight down so while it may have the same shape as a 767 everything else would be brand new. I suspect this is where they are heading with the key issue being range: 5000nm or further this is where the trade offs come in. The US carriers wants slightly less range and everybody else a little more range.

  • Craigy


    One problem Qantas encountered when it introduced the A332 on the domestic network was that it took longer to turnaround then the B767. To maximise aircraft utilisation, short turn around times are needed and so twin aisle and possible use of second door to speed up deplaning and boarding.

    It will be interesting to see what Airbus does to counter the B797. A new design based on the A350 shape but lighter materials for the shorter range and lower operating costs perhaps.

    As a side note VH-ZNE is ready for delivery.

  • AlanH


    Airbus could counter with a stumpy A350 perhaps. Though where that leaves the A330neo is anyone’s guess. The whole market is getting way too crowded! It’s getting to be like the car industry where different classes of vehicles are tending to overlap.

  • Craigy


    VH-ZNE (Skippy) was delivered today (Sunday) from Payne Field to Melbourne as QF6025

  • Treb Retosf


    Chris, your comment about ‘Low Cabin Pressure’, I think you really mean low cabin altitude as the differential pressure is higher on the 787 than the competition to get a ‘Lower Cabin Altitude’.

    Yes 2 aisles are an essential. In the 737, more than a third of the passengers are two seats from an aisle and this causes delays in itself for them just get to an aisle to get off let alone get than hand luggage out.

    The old 767 (255 passengers in the 767-338GE) could be turned around in 40 minutes, through a single boarding door and leaving the crew with the same aircraft for the day’s flying. Bags on and off quicker with them in containers, freight capacity and the GE burnt only a little more fuel (1.5T/hr) per hour than a 737 whilst carrying 35% more pax. Had they been equipped with the winglets, there would have been a further 8% fuel saving as was proven by Air New Zealand’s 767 fleet.

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