Why Boeing’s Double Decker The NLA Failed

Daniel Fowkes
29 Feb 2024
· Aircraft 
· Analysis 
Boeing studied a double-decker new large aircraft (NLA) in the 1990s but never released it. Why did this study ultimately fail?

In the 1990s, aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing attempted to identify ways to cater to the growing demand to travel long-haul.

While most manufacturers were also attempting to counter the strong grip Boeing had obtained on the sector with its 747s, Boeing wanted to create a perfect replacement to the 747 and an aircraft that would advance its position in the market.

After many failed concepts, the 747-8 would be the final superjumbo released by Boeing after much deliberation and studies.

The Boeing NLA

The Boeing NLA, standing for New Large Airplane, was a concept aircraft proposed in the late 1990s and even saw some discussion into the early 2000s. The premise behind the NLA was similar to other aircraft being studied at the time to address the anticipated but also more than present growing demand for large-capacity airliners.

As a result of more and more people choosing to fly, there was a realisation that airports couldn’t expand at a moment’s notice. Brand new airports could not be built either. Boeing, among others, believed these large planes were the future.  

Aside from demand, there was also the belief that this NLA could adequately replace the 747 and generally be its successor for the long term due to the technological advancements seen across a multi-decade period.

The hope was that with these advancements, whatever plane they offered could be deemed more accessible and efficient for customers.

Lastly, the NLA concept was in response to rival manufacturers studying how they would get back at Boeing and the long-term success they enjoyed through the 747 program.

Airlines Not In Love With The NLA

However, despite Boeing’s efforts to study and promote the NLA concept, it received less attention from airlines than expected. Some responded positively, and some did not, but it was clear that despite all these studies, your airline customers weren’t of the same mindset that the jet was groundbreaking.

Why didn’t the NLA succeed? Well, the 747 had enjoyed success and a lot through various iterations. The times were beginning to change, and new twin-engine aircraft, while by no means a replacement to the 747 or touted as some high-capacity airliner, were starting to show airlines what was possible.

If these manufacturers could push further and thus unveil something that would genuinely change the game, say a 787, 777 or even the eventual A350, it would completely change the landscape for long-haul travel.

The FAA has given Boeing 90 days to submit its turnaround plan to address core safety and culture issues impacting the company.
Photo credit: Yasuhiko Obara Yasobara

This is the direction the industry would eventually head as well. Despite manufacturers moving ahead with their final iterations of the quad-engined superjumbo era with the 747-8 and A380, these aircraft would ultimately underperform.

A Cost Problem

For Boeing, their NLA was technologically advanced compared to the 747 and brought larger capacity alongside a larger size, but there were visible problems.

Unlike further iterations to the 747, the NLA was a clean sheet, and if it had been produced, it would’ve been a hurdle to produce and certify. Additionally, the costs associated with developing the aircraft would’ve been substantially paired with resources.

These high costs amid a staggering amount of resources required would’ve potentially taken away valuable time from future aircraft programs that have dictated Boeing’s success into the 2000s.

The NLA was a concept study that never was, bringing high capacity and a full double-decker. The aircraft promised a lot but couldn’t deliver enough to push airlines to commit.

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  1. I personally think the 380 is a success and if they or Boeing made a new double decker like every one keeps talking about a lighter aircraft and now more efficient engines then it would be a big success

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