Could The Boeing 787-3 Become The 797/NMA?

Recently we discussed how Boeing could bring to market a replacement for the grounded Boeing 737 MAX and mothballed 797 in the form of a Boeing 787X. However, Boeing has actually designed the 787X before… the Boeing 787-3.

Boeing 787-3
Boeing could bring back plans for the Boeing 787-3 instead of the 797. Photo: Getty

What is the Boeing 787-3?

The Boeing 787-3 was initially conceived as a ‘short haul’ Boeing 787 variant.

The design has the following specifications:

  • The Boeing 787-3 could carry 290 to 330 passengers in a two-class configuration, up to a range of 2,500–3,050 nautical miles (4,630–5,650 km).

A common misconception is that it was the smallest of the Boeing 787s, but in fact, was the same size as the 787-8 (186 feet or 56.7 meters) but with the same capacity as the 787-10 (330 passengers).

Because of the passenger density and weight, the aircraft would have a limited range and would not be able to fly very far. The Boeing 787-9 can fly 7,635 nautical miles (14,140 km), which is almost three times further than the 787-3.

The aircraft project was delayed due to production issues with the first-in-line 787-8. Japan Airlines and ANA, who had 13 and 28 787-3s each on order respectively, moved their order to the 787-8 type.

“ANA’s primary business reason for adjusting their 787 model selection is focused around aircraft availability to support their fleet plan – the 787-8 is available sooner for delivery than the 787-3 would be, Boeing statement to Flight Global.

“As a result, there are no longer any 787-3 orders in the backlog. Going forward, we’ll continue to assess the market viability of the 787-3,” Boeing continued.

And thus the aircraft concept has been left on a shelf… until now.

ANA was one of the original airlines to order the Boeing 787-3. Photo: Toshi Aoki via Wikimedia Commons.

Why would the Boeing 787-3 work for Boeing?

Now that Boeing has moved aside plans for a middle-of-the-market filler Boeing 797, they are left with an opportunity to approach the market with a different concept. One that meets that demand for a short- to medium-haul airliner with 220-270 seats.

Currently, this role is catered to by Boeing 757s and 767s, but with types these no longer in production (unless Boeing makes a 757X or 767X) airlines are starting to worry that they won’t be able to find a replacement.

The Boeing 787-3 concept, if dusted off, would easily fill in that role. Boeing already has the advantage of having two major Boeing 787 production lines in operation and a qualified ‘reliable’ Dreamliner brand (engine/battery issues notwithstanding).

Air Canada Boeing 787
The Boeing 787-3 would be a good replacement for the 757 and 767, Photo: Air Canada

In fact, the Boeing 787-3 would very much be a natural addition to the product range much like Airbus does with the Airbus A321XLR program (filling a market need with an existing airframe).

“What would happen if Boeing were to dust off that thing we called a 787-3, let’s tweak it, let’s take some weight out, let’s do some clever stuff with it, and maybe that’s our NMA.” said Addison Schonland, founder and partner of AirInsight Research, to Flight Global.

Speaking of the Airbus A321XLR, Boeing may have to redesign the 787-3 to better compete against this rival type. As the single-aisle aircraft is cheaper to buy and operate, as well as having a better range, Boeing will need to have a compelling sales proposition to prove how the 787-3 is better.

By 2043… the market for this twin-aisled middle-market airplane will be 2,400 airplanes,” Schonland added to his interview with Flight Global. “That’s a respectable number and it’s worth chasing.”

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.