Will Airbus Make A New Plane To Compete With The Boeing 797?

With Boeing still confident that they’ll bring a NMA to market by 2025, possibly called the Boeing 797, we wonder how Airbus are feeling about it? With similar gaps in their product lineup to cope with, should they be looking at a new aircraft too?

Airbus A330neo
Will Airbus make a new plane to compete with Boeing’s NMA? Photo: Wikimedia

Boeing’s proposed 797 is expected to have a range of around 5,000nmi and capacity to carry 250 to 270 passengers on short haul journeys. It would fit neatly in the gap between Boeing’s top selling 737 family and their larger 787s. It’s designed to be a plane that will cope well with short haul, high capacity routes, and is expected to have twin aisles for speedy boarding and disembarkation.

Airbus are not planning any aircraft to fit in this gap, or at least not yet. They have a similar void in their offerings, which would sit between the A320 family and the A330s. So, will Airbus make a new plane to compete with the 797, or do they think their current lineup is enough?

The A330neo

The A330neo is fast becoming a firm favorite for long haul twin aisle operations. Being smaller than the A350s, it’s an economical plane to operate, but will all the advantages of a widebody configuration. Airbus have previously said that they believe the A330neo could be a direct competitor to the Boeing NMA.

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TAP air first A330neo
The A330neo has been popular with airlines. Photo: Airbus

In fact, one of the Airbus range is practically a direct competitor to the proposed 797 already; the A330-800neo. However, in contrast to the huge number of orders Airbus have enjoyed for their A330-900, so far, the A330-800 has had less than 10. It seems it is still not ticking the boxes airlines require of a true NMA aircraft.

Airbus have already said there are ‘tweaks’ in the pipeline which would put the A330neo in direct competition with the Boeing NMA. According to Crawford Hamilton, the A330’s marketing chief, Airbus plan to make an A330neo with rerated engines. This modification will reduce fuel demands and takeoff weight of the aircraft.

a330-800
Could the A330-800neo be further tweaked to better compete? Image: Airbus

The idea of this is to reduce the range of the A330neo while also making it much cheaper to operate. Speculation is that the B797 could be as much as 40% cheaper to run that the Airbus A330neo, so reducing fuel consumption is a must if they plan to compete effectively.

If Airbus are planning a smaller, lighter version of the A330neo, perhaps the A330-600neo, we could see some news about it at the Paris Airshow next month.

The A321XLR

At the other end of the ‘gap’ that Boeing are looking to plug sits the A321 family of aircraft. Currently, the closest it gets to the 5,000nmi expected of the 797 is with the Long Range (LR) version. The A321LR is certified to fly up to 4,000nmi with 206 passengers on board.

a321neo long-range
The A321LR can make it from New York to Paris. Image: Airbus

However, there have been mutterings at Airbus HQ for some time about a new version of the A321, one which is bestowed with an additional 700nmi of range. This would be the A321ULR (ultra-long range) or A321XLR (extra-long range) and would put the Airbus much closer to the range of the 797.

An A321XLR derivative would be based on existing technology and tooling. It would require far less paperwork as it’s simply a modification to an existing airframe, which could effectively bring it to market much quicker than the Boeing NMA.

A321
The A320 family of aircraft are the most popular narrowbody out there. Photo: AirFrance

The A320 family is considered by many airlines to be the best in class for short haul narrowbodies. In fact, the A320 has outsold the 737 by a ratio of four to one, which puts Airbus in a powerful position to modify the highly popular plane to cope with longer range demands. Again, it would be delightful to hear an announcement of an A321XLR/ULR at the Paris Airshow next month.

Something else?

We’ve already speculated that the Airbus A300 could be revamped to compete with the 797, perhaps as an A300neo. However, as a very old plane, it would need to be a complete overhaul compared to the airframe previously used for this model.

A300neo
Could this be the look of an Airbus A300neo? Photo: Simpleflying.com / Wikimedia

Including modern elements such as composite structure for weight reduction would enable an A300neo to travel further, and potentially carry more passengers too. Other technology that Airbus have mastered in the A350, such as better pressurization and humidity, would improve the passenger experience further.

However, the end product is likely too similar to the A330-800 in terms of passenger capacity and range, so it’s unlikely Airbus would invest the time, energy and finances into developing a brand new plane when they’ve already got something which ticks most of the boxes.

Summary

Overall, the Airbus lineup is pretty comprehensive. While there’s not a direct NMA competitor from Airbus, we don’t think we’ll be seeing any new planes being developed to compete with Boeing’s proposed model.

Between the A321neo at the bottom end of the passenger and range capacity and the A330neo at the top, Airbus are confident they’ll have enough on offer to compete strongly against any 797. That is, if the 797 is developed at all.

4 comments
  1. I doubt that Boeing will introduce an NMA…and, if they do, I doubt it’ll be a success. Airlines seem content with S and L, and seem to have little appetite for XL (poor sales of A380, 747-8 and 777X) or M (A330-800). Just because an airline expresses an “interest” in the concept of an NMA doesn’t mean that an actual purchase will occur…the same could be said of prototype supersonic planes.

    1. Delta has been saying shut up and take our money while many other airlines are interested. Airlines are using 757s longer than they would be using aircraft normally. They’re getting anxious on a replacement.

      Airbus likely will do something. I’m guessing after they offer down rated engines for the A330-800, they will stretch the A320 a bit further. Only time will tell.

      1. Boeing 797 is more of replacement of 767 than 757 as 797 is a twin aisle plane, unlike single aisle 757.
        Somehow, if at all Boeing plans to bring 797, it would be nothing more than B787-3. Airbus already has A321LR which will be also available as A321XLR & other being A330neo, which can be A330neo-600 with twin aisle, high density, shorter route. Boeing frankly lost the game when it ignored 757. And with 737crax & 787 grounding issues, with poor orders for 777x which by the way has already been delayed, it’s unlikely 797 will come. Also, there is no go ahead from Boeing board itself, so discussing 797 NMA is of no use unless Boeing actually starts work on it. Asian carriers are not interested in 797 as they want more cargo while US carriers want more pax. In absence of Asian orders, doubt whether 797 will be even see it breakeven if at all it’s launched. And the way Trump is acting, doubt how many Asian & Europeans will be keen to buy American products that too from zero trust Boeing.

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