Now that Boeing and Airbus have made clear their lack of interest in introducing all-new narrowbody models before 2020, talk of any response by the industry’s two biggest players to demand addressed by platforms such as Comac’s new C919 has begun to center on interim measures. Most notably, the prospect of a re-engining program for both the 737 and A320 has gained more attention lately–and perhaps for good reason.
While Boeing and Airbus in the past have tended to view possible competition from the likes of Bombardier’s C Series as somewhat quaint, they can no longer dismiss their potential to disrupt the duopoly the pair has enjoyed since Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas in 1997, if only at the lower end of the narrowbody range. The reason seems clear: engine makers have turned serious about accelerating the development of their once fanciful concepts into tangible platforms that promise enough fuel burn improvements to seriously threaten the status quo.
Even Brazil’s Embraer, which for years had dismissed the C Series as a paper airplane in search of a barely visible market niche, has accelerated its studies into a successor to the E-Jet, as companies, such as Pratt & Whitney and CFM International, ready their respective new entrants for service. Indeed, much has changed as we stand barely four years away from the introduction of the PW1000G-powered C Series and possibly less than seven years from a version of the CFM Leap X capable of meeting the time frame set by Comac for introduction of the C919.
If Boeing and Airbus have taken notice–and it seems unlikely they haven’t–the capacity segment dominated by the A320 and 737 could again become one of the most innovative and competitive in the business and, perhaps, just in time for the next economic boom cycle.