Boeing’s Cancelled Double Decker, The NLA

Daniel Fowkes
10 Nov 2023
· Aircraft 
· Analysis 
Boeing's New Large Airplane (NLA) concept aircraft to compete with the Airbus A380

Boeing once studied a full double-decker, the NLA. However, the aircraft manufacturer would eventually go on to cancel the development study.

Since then, the industry has seen many shifts in development at aircraft manufacturers as these companies have been forced to react to customers’ shifting strategies and industry trends.

Not all planes that hit the drawing board get released, and some remain as concepts. Thus offering an insight into what could’ve been but never was.

Boeing’s New Large Airplane

The Boeing NLA (New Large Airplane) program was a concept developed by Boeing in the late 1990s and early 2000s to explore the possibility of creating a new aircraft.

This would be an advanced widebody with the mission of rivalling existing, especially upcoming, long-haul airliners. Boeing also wanted to address the emerging market demands as the appetite for travel continued to grow.

Such a Boeing NLA would also act as a way to compete with the A3XX program being studied at Airbus, which would turn into the A380. Interestingly, Airbus’ way of competing with Boeing and the long-standing 747.

While the NLA never reached the production stage, it was pivotal in Boeing’s strategic planning and paved the way for future aircraft development efforts.

This is very much a statement that rings true about several concepts created throughout the decades. While these concepts may not get off the ground, their studies can be pivotal to other eventually released types.

Understanding The Purpose Of The NLA

The Boeing NLA program’s primary objective was to cater to airlines’ ever-changing needs with a new large type. Boeing wanted to extend its grip on the long-haul sector and fend for emerging competition.

Boeing’s NLA would’ve been able to accommodate 600 or so passengers in a three-class configuration. Additionally, it would’ve acted as a worthy upgrade to the 747 in the widebody long-haul market.

Targeting a range of 7,800 nautical miles or 14,400 kilometres, the jet would’ve seen four General Electric GE90s per the Seattle Post.

Ultimately, the range and overall capacity specifications would always be subject to change. Boeing’s figures act merely as a guide like any other released program.

If this plane were to be released, customers would kit the plane out how they see it fitting, and with that, these specifications would fluctuate.

A Full Double Deck?

One of the most prominent features visible would’ve been the double-deck nature of the NLA.

Yes, that’s right. To be able to achieve the increased capacity over the 747, Boeing would’ve removed the iconic hump and stretched the top deck of the plane right to the tail.

Had the NLA progressed, it would’ve been similar in design to the Airbus A380, which was revolutionary then.

With a mission of targeting long-haul routes primarily, Boeing wanted their NLA to slot into this market seamlessly and take on the role that, at the time, the American plane maker believed twin-engined aircraft were unable to complete.

Why Study An NLA Though?

Why did Boeing initiate the NLA program, especially considering all that was happening around the timeframe regarding conceptual aircraft and the significant shift in customer trends?

Boeing believed there was a need to offer a successor to the 747. Ultimately, it was a series that was not getting any younger at the time of the NLA study.

The 747 had been an icon of the skies for decades. However, the plane had also fundamentally changed how long-haul travel was completed. Boeing had a firm grip on the long-haul market and believed it could retain this with a new design.

Additionally, discussion of an NLA followed Airbus’ continued persistence in releasing their super jumbo.

It was important for Boeing to continue keeping a watchful eye on how the European plane maker progressed.

It was in Boeing’s best interests to study ways they could fend off any potential attempts from Airbus to take market share away from Boeing that it had accumulated over a multi-decade process.

So, with that said, the NLA was indeed targeted at replacing the 747 but mainly competing with the A3XX or A380 program.

Airbus and Boeing, with their superjumbos, were targeting the same customer base. As known, with the eventual release of the A380 and 747-8, these planes would most struggle to attract the substantial amount of orders their respective plane makers would have anticipated.

Why Didn’t The NLA Release?

Boeing never chose to move forward and release the NLA, but why? Several vital reasons can be directly attributed to why the NLA didn’t get off the ground and other quad-engine concept planes.

Boeing ultimately believed that the NLA wasn’t sustainable, given how industry trends were heading. As touched on, these companies were targeting twin-engined fuel-efficient types, and while the NLA promised customers a lot, it lacked significant areas that were just as crucial.

Thanks to the shifting trends, Boeing could not gauge customer interest significantly. Given that this had proceeded, it would’ve been a considerable investment.

Boeing needed to get it right and have that backing from customers. Without it, the large amounts required and allocated resources would be pointless.

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