In the late 2010s, Boeing was studying the potential release of a new middle-of-the-market airliner dubbed by many as the 797.
The Boeing NMA was understood to be an adequate replacement for the 757 and compete with Airbus’ existing and ever-developing A321 family.
Understanding The Boeing NMA
The middle of the market segment typically includes aircraft with capacities between 150 and 250 passengers and can efficiently cover medium-range routes.
It’s a significant market, and one during the 2010s analysts predicted would see the need for 4,000 units across future decades. So, there was no doubt a healthy market available to manufacturers willing to dip their toes in.
The Boeing NMA was intended to serve as a successor to the aging Boeing 757 and compete with the popular Airbus A321neo series. This program from Airbus has gained a strong foothold in this segment thanks to the lack of competition from Boeing.
With a lack of replacement for a handful of ageing types at Boeing, this NMA was what customers had hoped for. While some carriers waited, others couldn’t be as patient and had already switched to Airbus or moved towards another program by Boeing.
Potential Variants And Specifications
Sources and analysts within the industry outlined some potential specifications for the NMA. However, it’s crucial to understand Boeing never confirmed this.
Specifics around a program that had ultimately not been confirmed or primarily discussed by the planer maker meant a lot of uncertainty.
However, some reports identified variants labelled as the -6 and -7 as options. These variants would have been able to carry over 200 passengers in a two-class configuration. Additionally, it would’ve been able to fly 4,500 nautical miles at its lowest point and upwards for the larger variant.
Ultimately, the range would depend on the aircraft’s configuration and the variant, with the -7 slated to have a higher seat capacity overall.
Why Is There A Need For An NMA?
One of the largest areas of focus when discussing an NMA is the demand shown in the market. The middle of the market segment was underserved for some period.
Airlines worldwide sought more efficient means of flying in this segment. They wanted plane makers to utilise technological advancements to provide an efficient and environmentally friendly solution to replace ageing types and aid fleet growth plans.
Competition from Airbus also remained a persistent focal point for why many believed Boeing needed to begin progressing with the NMA.
Look no further than the Airbus A321neo series, particularly the A321XLR, which, since its launch announcement in 2019, has gained significant popularity in the market. Airbus’ XLR offers airlines a versatile and efficient option for routes previously operated by the 757 but also allows even further capabilities.
There was a general belief that Boeing needed to respond to the A321XLR and other derivatives in the market offered by Airbus to maintain some market share in the sector.
Other compelling reasons also existed, such as the desire to continue innovating, offering new products and bridging the gap better between the MAX and 787 offerings. However, Boeing would eventually not proceed with the NMA.
Why Didn’t Boeing Release An NMA?
Boeing chose to prioritise the development of new, advanced technologies that would be available in the 2030s. The company believed it could create a more revolutionary and competitive aircraft by delaying the NMA project and focusing on next-generation technologies.
It’s risky as it relies on technology that may not be ready in the 2030s, while Airbus remains unrivalled in the segment. However, if timed correctly, it could be a wait that pays off, with their next plane truly revolutionary and allowing Boeing to reclaim the spot as the number one manufacturer.
During the late 2010s, when discussion was heightened over an NMA, Boeing began experiencing significant troubles with its MAX program.
The 737 MAX is Boeing’s best seller and arguably their most important program. Due to these significant issues being experienced, focus was placed on this area of the company.
However, shortly after this, Boeing experienced 787 quality assurance difficulties that would ground the plane at some companies, delay production and see deliveries suspended.
In 2020, the global pandemic would arrive, too. It resulted in several frustrations, not to mention 777X certification delays that meant Boeing needed to refocus and shift its strategy to prioritise existing plane models.
Is Waiting Truly A Good Idea?
Boeing’s choice to focus on future technology may offer long-term benefits, as it positions the company to leapfrog competitors with a more advanced product.
However, it also leaves the middle of the market segment unaddressed for an extended period. This could extend for over a decade, allowing Airbus to maintain a stronghold on this market segment.
Airbus could offer customers a reason to switch from Boeing to their aircraft during this period. Across the decade, without an alternative from Boeing, it’ll give Airbus time to flourish with its customers.
As a result, the next time an order has to be made in the segment and Boeing offers their newest piece of technology, while a substantial upgrade Airbus may have the upper hand thanks to an established and growing relationship.
The success of Boeing’s strategy will depend on the company’s ability to bring game-changing technologies to market and return to what we know and love: innovation and the desire to bring an A game to every product. Time will tell, but there are no plans for an NMA release soon.