What Planes Will The Boeing 797 Compete With?

We may get the first glimpse of the Boeing 797 at the upcoming Paris Air Show. But, until then, we can only speculate on how Boeing will approach the current aviation market, and how they will deal with competition.

Engine manufacturer Rolls Royce is predicting 4,000-5,000 Boeing 797s will be ordered over the next 20 years. But what aircraft will the 797 be competing against, and will this competition be able to beat Boeing to the punch?

What the B797 could look like. Source: Youtube DJ’s Aviation.
What the B797 could look like. Source: Youtube DJ’s Aviation.

What is the Boeing 797?

Before we can discuss what aircraft will compete with the 797, we should explain exactly what role the 797 will fill.

The Boeing 797, also dubbed the ‘New Midsized Aeroplane’, fills a hole in the Boeing aircraft lineup. Currently, Boeing does not sell an aircraft that carries up to 250-270 passengers and is designed for short haul travel. The Boeing 797 would be bigger than the Boeing 737 MAX 10 but smaller than the long haul Boeing 787-8.

Airlines are looking for an aircraft that is suited for high capacity short-haul routes. Routes between large and close cities such as Melbourne and Sydney (the most passengers per year) or Chicago and New York could benefit from the 797. With its twin aisles, it will be able to board and disembark passengers much faster than the single aisle aircraft currently used on these routes, such as the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320.

The 797 has the advantages of being a new design and incorporating the latest technological innovations from both the Dreamliner and the Boeing 777x, which will be flying later this year. These include a composite structure to make it lighter and a myriad of improved passenger comforts.

For those curious, here are the rumored specifications:

Boeing 797
Cockpit crewTwo
Seating228 (2-Class) up to 275 (1-class)
Exit Limit (Total possible passengers)250-270
Length155 ft 3 in / 47.3 m (Boeing 757)
Wingspan124 ft 10 in / 38.0 m span
Wing area1,994 sq ft (185.25 m2) area
Tail height44 ft 6 in / 13.6 m
Cabin widthAround 4-5 meters wide (2x2x2 configuration)
Maximum takeoff weightUnknown at this time
Cruising SpeedPossibly Mach 0.85
Fuel capacityAround 11,000 US gal
Range5,000 nmi (9,300 km)

Naturally, all of the above specifications are subject to change and only estimations.

What aircraft will the 797 compete with?

There are a variety of different aircraft on the market that the Boeing 797 will be competing against.

There are some that are already in use and some future designs that could be tweaked to be a 797 killer. We have listed a few below:

Boeing 797
There are a variety of different options for airlines to choose from. Source: Simple Flying

Here they are side by side, with the Boeing 797 in the middle.

AircraftPassengersRangeCost
A3201863,300 nmiUS$101M
737 MAX 10~2003,000 nmiUS$134.9M
797228-2755,000 nmi US$100M
A321neo2404,000 nmiUS$129.5 million
787-82427,355 nmUS$239.0M
767-300ER260-2905,980 nmiUS$217.9M
A330-800257-4008,150nmUS$259.9M
787-92907,635 nmUS$281.6M

Airbus A320 / Boeing 737

Currently, the role of the 797 is fulfilled (unpractically) by Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s.

The Airbus A320 has the world’s fastest growing sales of any aircraft and is widely used. But both of these aircraft are smaller (fitting in around 100-230 passengers) and lack the advantages of a newer twin-aisled design.

A320
An A320neo comes into land. Photo: Wikimedia

Boeing has said that the 737 could perform much of the work, but a further stretch is nearly impossible. The reason for this is that the design is already so long that would scratch the ground as it took off, and any bigger engines would clip the ground (the 737 was designed for stairways in mind, and is too low to the ground to really be practical for bigger loads).

The Boeing 737 has also been involved in some unfortunate accidents that have highlighted how out of date the design is, and that Boeing needs to approach the market with a brand new concept.

Boeing 767

The Boeing 767 is the closest jet to what the 797 will become. It is twin-aisled, carrying 210-300 passengers with a range of 5,500-6,500 nmi. Boeing produced and sold over 1,200 of these aircraft and they are still in use all over the world. However, it’s an older design made for a time when flights were much more expensive, fuel was cheap and building materials were heavy. With lighter and more fuel efficient planes available, the Boeing 767 is just not the most economical option on the market.

FedEx 767
A FedEx 767. Photo: Boeing

With the Boeing 797 unlikely to be flying before 2024, it’s possible that Boeing could restart Boeing 767 production in the meantime. It is believed that United is looking for around 40 mid-sized aircraft to bridge the gap, for instance. They could simply convert the freighter variants under construction. Currently, Boeing leadership have ruled it out, but anything is possible.

Airbus A321neo

In a previous article, we compared the Airbus A321neo (the biggest and most advanced version of the Airbus A320 family) to the upcoming Boeing 797. Airbus has come out and said that they intend either this aircraft or the Airbus A330neo to compete with the Boeing 797.

However, the A321 can only carry around 230 passengers (exit limit 250) and only has a range of 4-5,000 nmi. This would always make it the lesser option when compared to the 797. But Airbus isn’t worried, knowing that it will reap plenty of orders that might go to a 797 .

“We don’t feel under pressure to react, even before Boeing has moved,” Airbus CEO said earlier this month “Market share for the A321 is very big because there’s no real competition, and we’ll keep improving this product to serve the low end of the middle-of-market space.”

Boeing 787-8

The 787-8
The Boeing 787-8 taking off. Photo: Boeing

The Boeing 787-8 seems to tick all the boxes for the Boeing 797. It is twin-aisled, economical, carries 242 passengers in a two-class configuration 7,300 nmi. But this is overkill for some airlines. As we have mentioned before, a bigger plane means more tickets to sell. More tickets to sell means it is harder to make a profit.

Plus Boeing would not want to cannibalize sales of their own aircraft and thus will differentiate the 797 from the 787 family. It is unlikely that they would market it as an option.

Airbus A330neo

The last aircraft on this list is the actual aircraft Airbus is officially touting to beat the 797. specifically the A330-800, which has only sold eight units in the world.

The A330-800 can carry 257 passengers (3 class configuration) or up to 400 in an all-economy cattle box. It has a range of 8,150 nmi and would place it perfectly within the scope of what Boeing is trying to achieve. The only problem is cost. The Airbus A330-800 is expensive to buy ($259.9 million) and run. The Boeing 797 is rumored to be priced around $120 million and to run 40% cheaper than the A330. So far the fact that Airbus has only sold eight A330-800s is very telling of how popular this design is.

But Airbus has not ruled out tweaking the design, so we shall have to see what the future holds for this aircraft.

When will the Boeing 797 design be finished?

As for when we actually will be flying in the Boeing 797, that is up to Boeing:

“We’re not going to launch this airplane unless the business case makes good sense, We still have time to do our homework and make the right decision, so we’re not going to be rushed into a decision here.” – Boeing

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

12 comments
  1. The 787-8 is almost the same size as a 767, except for a wider fuselage; so, in a way, the 787-8 is already a 767-replacement. The list price of the 787-8 is USD 242 million, so how will it be possible for the 797 to have a list price of half that figure?
    And what about freight? It seems that the 797 will purely be intended as a passenger aircraft, with zero emphasis on freight; if that’s so, then it’s difficult to compare its operating costs/performance with any current aircraft, except perhaps the A321LR (which basically only has hold room for baggage and fuel). Maybe the 797 — if it ever comes — is being aimed at long-haul LCCs.

    1. You are very close to the mark. Before the Airbus announcement re: A330-800 tweaks, many of us suspected the A321neo-LR would be the main competitor to the 797. It also has been considered by new long haul LCC, such as MOXY.

  2. Boeing doesn’t have a viable aircraft smaller than the 787. It should design a 737 replacement – urgently – before embarking on a MoM aircraft.

    The 737 MAX now joins the DC-10 and the DeHavilland Comet as aircraft that nobody wants to fly on. The DC-10 and Comet eventually had their problems fixed, but their reputations were so badly tarnished that still nobody would fly on them. With oversized engines, I’m not sure whether the 737 MAX can be fixed.

    1. I agree. The 737 MAX is a disaster. Even if it gets recertified, lots of people will not want to fly in it. In this context, the 797 is a luxury that Boeing can’t really afford to indulge in.

  3. The quoted B797 (twin aisle) cost of US $100m is substantially less than the (single aisle) cost of the largest B737 ($134m) and A321 ($129m). Plus it has greater range and passenger capacity and probably a much greater weight. Something’s wrong here.
    Also, how much is the extra few minutes saved in em/dis-embarking a twin aisle compared to a single aisle over the 20 odd years of service?

  4. You have to compare the B797 to the A321XLR, and what it will become. You have two markets: medium range ~4000 nm and high capacity. The big advantage of the 797 is that it will be dual aisle and will be quicker to turn around. However, this won’t make any difference for 4000 nm journeys as they can take as long as they like to do it – they’ll only get 2 trips a day.
    For the shorter journeys, it will be an advantage alright.
    Next we have the sales price – do yo really believe they can build a plane that is practically a 787 for $129M – I am really not so sure. They may think that they can squeeze their suppliers to build large parts of it for almost nothing, but I don’t see it.
    + after th Max debacle, they may be more cautious about quality.
    One the Max debacle, I believe they will get over it with a s/w fix and training. Airlines have no alternative – the A320 lines are maxed out for the next 5 or so years so you have no alternative but Boeing.

  5. Airframe makers need to invest in revolutionizing how they build, not unlike the auto/commercial truck makers. Building an aircraft that works for the customer, i.e., the airline, is the ultimate mission. Airlines in turn have to get it right if they expect passengers to book with with them. Personally, both the 737 and 320 family have had a good run already. It’s time for a new design by both, flexible enough to meet airlines’ ever-changing needs to meet market demand.

  6. I remain unconvinced that a twin aisle is any quicker t turn around than a single aisle aircraft. Air New Zealand used both 737 and 767 aircraft on Auckland to Christchurch legs and dropped the 767 as it took too long to turn these aircraft around. Yes these were bigger planes but single or twin aisle passengers still have to enter and exit through one door. Agree with many of the above comments. Both Boeing and Airbus should be working on replacements for the 737 and A320 aicraft. That’s where the volume and profit seems tob.

  7. I fundamentally disagree with your thesis. None of these other airplanes can be tweaked to compete with the target Boeing has in it’s sights. We cannot call any change that costs in billions a tweak.

    Single-Aisle is a no go.

    Fuselage Weight and Drag will be far lower than any similar capacity twin-aisle airplane. The lower weight will allow for wing optimizations out of range for tweaks. (The A321 wing is at its limit in that it cannot support a larger airplane without generating excessive drag.) The smallest wing on the 767-200 would be too big and too heavy. Wing changes and redesigns cost billions of dollars and do not qualify for tweaky cheats.

    None of the current Airbus airplanes can make use of a 45,000 to 50,000 pound engine. The 757 could manage, but it is out of production and fails the twin-aisle requirement.

    The 797 will be Boeing’s first wide-oval fuselage, and second in carbon fiber. It will have twin-aisles and 2-3-2 seating. It will eschew freight in order to minimize drag and allow the smallest wing for the weight of a passenger-only machine. It will use a new, more efficient engine in a thrust range well below the lightest wide-bodies and well above the heaviest narrow-bodies. My guess is that the Pratt geared turbofan may win an efficiency challenge. GE has only to enlarge the Leap engine, but there are some reservations about getting efficiency the hard way, through high temperature materials.

    If tweaks could do it, we could have a modified 767-200 already. This one, is a full multi-billion dollar program to do things tweaks cannot.

    It’s okay to dream and think about other possibilities. It’s fun, I grant.

    What works in the real world requires shrewd objectives and engineering prowess, and an appetite to bet a boat load of money. The reason we did not get a Boeing 737 replacement is that airlines were not interested in the advantages the Y1 offered. All “tweaks” and “do-overs” come at significant cost.

  8. The 797 will compete with the Airbus A321XLR but there is no way the price tag will be 100 million that is cheaper 737max.

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