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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.