We are waiting in anticipation for Boeing to reveal the 797 at the upcoming Paris Air Show next month.
However, there is one important question we haven’t actually asked… should Boeing even be building it? With problems regarding the 737 MAX in the spotlight, should they be focusing on a new narrow body instead?
Why build a 797?
First, a quick summary of the 797 business case. The Boeing 797 is set to fill in a ‘gap’ in the market of high-density short routes.
This is a gap of passenger capacity at around 225-275, and within the range of 5,000 nmi. This aircraft could also be twin-aisled, allowing for faster disembarkation and boarding.
It would be perfect for:
- An airline that operates popular and dense routes. Sydney to Melbourne, New York to Chicago, London to Paris.
- An airline that heavily utilized the Boeing 757 or 767 and is looking for a replacement.
- An airline looking to expand capacity on routes currently operated by Boeing 737s or Airbus A320s
But critics have not been kind. With aircraft like the 787-3 and Airbus A330neo-800 not selling well (the former being outright canceled), and not much demand for the Airbus A321 XLR (all three aircraft are on the fringes of the above specifications), is there even a market?
Plus looking at development cost in the region of $12-15 billion USD, is this a cost that Boeing can afford right now?
Why build a 737 MAX successor?
There are several arguments that Boeing should be working on a 737 MAX successor.
The first, the elephant in the room, is that the aircraft has been involved in two fatal accidents that killed over 300 passengers. This has already put a huge stigma on the aircraft, with many passengers (and commentators) refusing to ever fly on them again.
The basic aircraft design of the 737 MAX is over 50 years old and, despite trying to pack in new tech, it’s literally a relic from a bygone era. Boeing has continued to use this tried and true model in an effort to save on development and engineering costs.
But as we have seen, this principle of sticking with a popular but old airframe has led to some problems with the aircraft. Perhaps it’s time for Boeing to scrap everything and begin anew with a narrowbody design that does not have the flaws of the 737 design?
What does Airbus think?
Some aviation experts, especially those at rival Airbus, believe that Boeing should focus on a new narrowbody and wait to develop the Boeing 797.
Former COO of Airbus, John Leahy, spoke to Airline Watch earlier this year about the new Boeing 797. Leahy worked for Airbus from 1994 to 2008 as head of the commercial aircraft division.
“If Boeing wants to build something, I would advise them to invest in a new narrowbody airplane that can follow the 737 MAX from the middle of the next decade. Thus, they will be five years earlier than Airbus, who will only come with a successor for the A320 around 2030.”
He went on to say that Airlines want a standardized fleet to reduce costs, and are not interested in investing in a new type of aircraft.
Naturally, we should take their comments with a grain of salt, as being the Boeing competitor they wouldn’t want anyone to jump into the market with a bright and shiny new aircraft. What do you think?