Boeing’s ‘797’ Taking Shape as Twin-aisle Design

 - March 13, 2017, 12:13 PM

A so-called middle of the market (MOM) airplane meant to replace the Boeing 757 would involve a twin-aisle design, signaled airline, airframe and leasing executives attending the March 5 to 7 International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading (ISTAT) conference in San Diego. Boeing remains in consultation with airlines and leasing companies about what now has become known as the 797, which, according to Air Lease executive chairman Steven Udvar-Hazy would also almost certainly offer a choice of two engine types.

While Airbus COO for customers John Leahy predictably derided the idea of a twin-aisle aircraft occupying the 200- to 260-seat capacity range, Hazy reminded the audience during a roundtable discussion in San Diego that one shouldn’t evaluate the potential market for the airplane based on today’s conditions, but rather on a 35-year span beginning in 2025.

You have to look at infrastructure, airport constraints, capacity constraints, frequency constraints, and then see if you can superimpose an airplane that’s between the 787-8 and 737 or between the A330 and A321,” said Hazy. “So there will be a growing need for an airplane in that category. It’s not magnified today, but if you look at the lifecycle of the airplane, it is significant. Don’t forget the 737 is 50 years old this year.”

However, according to AerCap Holdings CEO Angus Kelly, engine developments have not reached the stage at which such an airplane would appeal to a global customer base. “They key part of this is the engine technology,” said Kelly. “If you’re going to be searching for that window between the A321 market and the 787 market…you need a bigger engine; you need a more efficient engine. It’s not there yet.”

As always, cost will prove a key consideration, and Kelly argued that to keep costs down one might want a lower-thrust engine that might not necessarily offer the necessary performance.

If you have a 40,000-pound-thrust engine, that might be good for some of your customer base, but is it good for all of them?” Kelly asked rhetorically. “And if its 45,000 pounds of thrust, it’s going to be a more expensive airplane, and that’s the challenge they have to get right.”   

SMBC Aviation Capital CEO Peter Barrett asserted that while Boeing could undoubtedly design an airplane that airlines would want to operate, its cost will ultimately determine its viability. “I think the critical challenge to them will be actually can they learn all the lessons that they’ve taken from programs over the last couple of years and apply them in a way to give a sticker price that’s going to make sense,” he said.

United Airlines CFO Andrew Levy, for one, signaled a strong interest in an airplane to replace his airline’s aging 757s and 767s during an airline panel discussion at ISTAT. Although he said the Airbus A321 “does a nice job,” he added that it doesn’t meet all of United’s needs for its base in Newark. “That being said, the 757 didn’t either,” noted Levy. “We had some issued going deep into Europe on the westbound leg, Berlin as an example.

It doesn’t have to be a narrowbody,” he added. “The new Boeing product is actually a twin, which we were skeptical [about] at first but after studying we actually think it has a lot of merit and if they decide to launch it would be something we’d be very interested in.”