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Boeing 797, the concept of a New Middle Size Airplane (NMA) is yet to come out of the blueprints. The design, once all set for launch is still on the shelves due to multifaceted problems encountered by Boeing in the last few years. The aircraft was primarily planned to fill in the market gap for a 200-300 seats aircraft needed in high load factor sectors. The gap still exists and is yet to be filled by some mid-size aircraft.
How it Started?
Let’s start from the beginning. Boeing was all determined to bring in a new design to cater to a niche market between the smallest and largest aircraft. A design that could fall between the Boeing 737 MAX and Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The new niche market was identified as a Middle Market. On the contrary, Airbus had already claimed to bridge this specific gap with its A321NEo and A320LR. Yet, Boeing worked out and decided to bring Boeing NMA (New Midsize Airplane).
The Idea had Weight!
The idea also had weight since a number of airlines needed to replace their aging fleets of Boeing 757 and Boeing 767. Many of them approached Boeing for a possible replacement. Boeing held detailed discussions with the airlines. The outcome suggested that there was a market for the Middle of the Market (MoM) aircraft. Instead of revamping the older Boeing 767, the company decided to come up with an all-new aircraft – the Boeing 797.
General Design Features
The idea got more traction by 2017. Many airlines had already expressed interest in a twin-aisle 7 seat abreast, elliptical fuselage cross-section aircraft; mostly using a high percentage of composite materials. The twin-aisle idea was also beneficial to the airlines for quick turnarounds within the defined sectors. The initial conceptual design included two variants (Boeing 797 NMA 6x and the Boeing 797 NMA 7x).
Capacity and Performance
It was conceptualized that the earlier variant would have 225 seats and a range of 5,000nm (9,300km) while the latter one would have 275 seats and a range of 4,500 nm (8,300km). It was estimated that the Boeing 797 would earn 30% more revenue and save 40% lesser operating costs per trip in the region. The hurdle, of course, was the requirement of US$12-$15 Billion for the development program.
What Happened Then?
AT that time, the additional challenge for Boeing was their complete focus on the development of the Boeing 777X and Boeing 787-10. Moreover, 737 MAX was also under the trial phases. Airbus was already ahead of Boenig. However, considering all the phases of design, development, trials, and certifications, Boeing 797 was not visible on the scene before 2025. To be more realistic, 2027.
Typically, new aircraft designs take 7 to 8 years from conception to introduction. This means that even if the go-ahead was given in 2019, the math is simple. So far nothing worthwhile could be done in this direction due to multiple reasons.
Consecutive Crashes of Boeing 737 MAX
While Boeing was still planning to materialize the idea off the shelves, Boeing 737 MAX encountered two consecutive crashes in a row with a gap of a few months in between. It was a disaster for the company since it was their state-of-the-art latest technology. All of a sudden, the entire fleet of Boeing 737 MAX went from air to ground around the globe. The airlines suffered severe losses and further demands for the MAX just went down.
It was also a major loss for Boeing. The company became questionable. The forecasted revenues plummeted and the company was forced to bring the MAX back on its feet. One of the many factors responsible that holding up the Boeing 797 program to date.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the tables upside down for the entire aircraft and airline industry in the last one and a half years. Due to limited commercial flight operations, both industries have suffered a major knockoff. Boeing had to direct its finances to recertify the 737 MAX at the earliest.
With the record low revenues in 2020, the recovery of the MAX, and paying off huge compensations to the families of the lost ones in two crashes, the company came under a major financial situation. Although it did not lose its sustenance in the market because after all, Boeing is a big name. But, these two major events were enough to hold the Boeing 797 Programme on the shelves for the time being.
Now when the 737 MAX has returned to the skies after the recertification process and a sizeable number of administered vaccination around the globe, air travel is picking the pace as life is going closer to normalcy. Chances are that the NMA Programme might be able to gain some life.
The gap is there, and Boeing 797 still has the place to bridge the gap since the Airbus 330neo-800 with a similar seating capacity has not been able to capture the market as predicted. However, in the aviation industry, it is all about money and timing. Let’s see if something comes up in the next few years as soon as the industry regains the same foothold as it was in early 2019.