In the late 2010s, talk of Boeing releasing a new middle-of-the-market airliner (NMA) dubbed the 797 emerged strongly.
Such a plane would look towards combatting the success Airbus enjoyed with its A321neo program while providing an adequate 757 replacement.
But, was the proposed aircraft genuinely perfect for the aviation industry, despite choosing against proceeding with the type?
Introducing The Boeing NMA
The Boeing NMA was a proposed aircraft to fill the market gap between the 737 MAX and the larger 787 Dreamliner. A hole that, yes, was previously filled by the 757 and 767. While these two aircraft types still fly, production for both aircraft for passenger services ceased some time ago.
Now, Boeing does not produce aircraft that type slots between the 737 and 787. Boeing viewed the NMA as a type that would address airlines’ demand for fuel-efficient, midsize aircraft with fantastic range capabilities.
All in all, the plane would help cater to the trend that has only grown of point-to-point travel and the ability to connect secondary markets spanning some distance rather than diverting traffic through a central hub.
Despite initial enthusiasm and customers remaining eager, Boeing faced several challenges that meant such a plane was placed on the back burner until 2030, when new technologies would be available to apply to the clean sheet.
Why An Airline Would Order The Boeing NMA
Airlines will place orders for aircraft for several reasons. However, some primary ones relate to either plans to replace ageing fleet types with newer aircraft or to grow operations.
For customers who had eyed the NMA numerous times, the jet was viewed as a genuine, dedicated replacement for the 757 and some 767 variants. The 757, famous for its narrow-body versatility, was aging. Additionally, production ceased in 2004.
Meanwhile, the Boeing 767 wasn’t getting any younger either, and while some customers had moved towards the 787 or A350, even the A330neo to replace this series, nothing remained between the MAX and 787.
The NMA was identified as a type that could suit midsize markets where previously these aircraft thrived. Several airlines have also considered existing options in the 737 MAX and 787 series unsuitable for multiple reasons. Analysts say this could be because the aircraft is too small or the aircraft type offers capabilities far exceeding a customer’s desires.
Ultimately, for interested parties, the NMA aimed to position itself as a compelling option for those seeking to modernise their fleet, whether with fleet replacement efforts or for those with a general view to grow their operations into new markets.
Importantly, for the long-term success of Boeing, the aircraft would’ve also become an essential option for the plane maker to better compete with Airbus and their A321neo series.
The NMA Would’ve Marked A New Era
The Boeing NMA would’ve also marked a new era for Boeing, representing their first clean sheet aircraft type since the 787 Dreamliner’s entry into service.
While development costs would’ve been high, the aircraft, if it had been proceeded with, would’ve harboured substantial levels of efficiency for customers.
Boeing would’ve tailored variants specifically to fill niches in the market that would’ve seen a wide array of airlines look to fulfil their needs for their operations. These last few sentences may seem strikingly similar to another aircraft type offered, Airbus’ A321neo.
The lack of an NMA has allowed Airbus to put a substantial amount of money into further developing the A321neo program to enhance its capabilities to meet more niches. In their case, this has surrounded most notably range increases visible through the A321LR and upcoming A321XLR.
The case could’ve been made if Boeing had proceeded with their NMA, competition would’ve intensified drastically, and maybe Airbus’ movements in space would’ve been different as they would respond to Boeing’s movements.
Other perks of the NMA, meaning a new era for Boeing, would’ve been the range. To slot into the middle of the market sector adequately, the aircraft would’ve needed to harbour some of the newest features but also have a focus on range. Boeing would’ve been forced to optimise the range of the aircraft to ensure customers could deploy the single-aisle jet on several services.
These shifting trends align with the persistent adjustments seen industry-wide. As a result, widebodies and single-aisle aircraft offered 30 years ago had a very different purpose to what is required of them today.
Would The Boeing NMA Have Been Perfect?
No aircraft is genuinely perfect. However, some aircraft types can be game-changing for an airline’s performance in specific markets. Customers, including key airlines and leasing companies, would argue a Boeing NMA-type aircraft would’ve offered that.
Equipped with substantial capabilities that would’ve seen it lead the industry, the assumption can be made that it would have been one of Boeing’s more advanced types. Additionally, it would’ve cemented itself as an industry leader for decades and addressed a market requiring thousands of aircraft.
However, some analysts would argue that Boeing’s decision to hold off on the aircraft until the 2030s will present more opportunities to offer a revolutionary aircraft to customers at this point. Even if, as a consequence, it’s forced to ceed market share towards Airbus for an extended period.
Either way, the NMA acquired substantial interest with leading aircraft lessor calling for such an aircraft for their customers. Demand was there, but for Boeing, they didn’t feel it was right.
When Boeing comes out with a new aircraft, it’ll need to stick the landing for the plane maker to regain market share and enter a new era for its commercial portfolio.