Like all things at Boeing, the 797 program has had a turbulent year. Less than a year ago the airframe builder was rumored to be announcing a new airframe at the Paris Air Show and now the Boeing 797 plans have been scrapped. What do we know about the 797 and how did we get here?
The original concept
The Boeing 797 was originally devised as a new aircraft to fill in the ‘middle of the market’ gap that airlines were contending with. This ‘gap’ is defined as aircraft that cater to the 220-270 field of passengers to a range of 5,000 nautical miles. A step up from Boeing’s 737 short-haul aircraft and below the Boeing 787 long-haul aircraft; a medium-haul aircraft, if you will.
It would also need to be a spiritual successor to the Boeing 757 and Boeing 767, both of which are no longer built (Boeing 767 freighters are still built, but no more passenger aircraft).
Boeing was actually rumored to be working on two Boeing 797 aircraft variants:
- 797-6 will be able to seat 228-passengers and fly a range of 4,500 nautical miles (8,300km).
- 797-7 which would seat 267-passengers and fly a range of 4,200 nautical miles (7,700km).
As you can see, the smaller one could carry fewer passengers a further range and the bigger one more passengers but to a lesser distance. The distance difference is rather irrelevant as most airlines would be operating the type under 4,000 nautical miles, but having a slighter longer-range available would be good for airlines such as Icelandair (who is looking to replace their Boeing 757s).
The original concept was also designed as a widebody aircraft. This would facilitate rapid boarding and deplaning of passengers at busy airports that required rapid turn around (think routes like Sydney to Melbourne with frequent services).
What happened next?
Despite lots of airlines interested in the concept, Boeing never revealed anything at the Paris Air Show.
However, their rival Airbus was less hesitant and released their extended-range Airbus A321XLR, quickly snapping up orders that may have gone for the Boeing 797.
From here Boeing actually had much more on their plate with the Boeing 737 MAX grounding and issues with the production of the Boeing 787 that they ended up shelving existing plans for the 797. The new CEO of Boeing decided that a new white-paper concept would be needed after much consultation and analysis of the industry.
What are Boeing’s options?
From here Boeing has several options to bring an aircraft to market.
- They could make an entirely new aircraft. Boeing has been looking beyond its product line and has plans to introduce a new aircraft in the next 20 years that is entirely different from what flies today. This new aircraft might not even be a widebody, but a fellow single-aisle like the Airbus A321XLR.
- They could ‘X-ify’ their Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 lines. A Boeing 767X would fill the need for airlines looking to replace existing 767s, and already fills the middle of the market conditions.
- They could bring back plans such as the Boeing 787-3, a short-range Boeing 787 Dreamliner concept originally created for the Japanese market.
Part of the issue is that the cost of the new Boeing 797 design, whatever it may be, will be just as much as it costs to get the Boeing 737 MAX back in the air. Whether or not Boeing, and its shareholders, has the stomach to spend even more money on this aircraft remains to be seen.
What do you think? Which direction will Boeing go in? Let us know in the comments.