Could The Boeing 797/NMA Be A Single Aisle Plane?

For the longest time, the Boeing 797 has been on plans a widebody twin aisle aircraft. However, could Boeing follow in the footsteps of the Airbus A321XLR and turn its 797 into a single aisle aircraft?

AA narrowbody
The future for Boeing might lie in the narrowbody space. Photo: American Airlines

What are the details?

A former Airbus executive has gone on the record with Flight Global stating that Boeing should turn the Boeing 797 into a short-haul narrowbody, slightly bigger than a Boeing 737.

The former Airbus Americas president Barry Eccleston has turned critical on the NMA 797 program, saying that it doesn’t hit the bullseye that Boeing is going for.


“The market is between 160 to 240 seats and 3,000nm to 5,000nm, that’s where the volume production is,” Eccleston spoke to Flight Global. “I’m probably going to lean towards a single aisle rather than a twin aisle for that volume market.”


Boeing’s original plans for the Boeing 797 was a 220-270 seater aircraft with the range around 5,000 nautical miles (9,260 km). It would be a replacement aircraft for the Boeing 757, but plans were postponed earlier this year.

Icelandair 757
Icelandair wants to replace its Boeing 757s soon. Photo: Getty

However, perhaps Boeing was a bit off the mark with this concept. Two of Eccelstons points ring true:

  1. Most air journeys are between 3,000-5,000 nautical miles. Having the range over 5,000 is a ‘nice-to-have’ but does come at the cost of making the aircraft more expensive to run, like extra fuel tanks or heavier engines.
  2. The passenger capacity up to 270 is great, but as the industry moves to frequency over capacity, Boeing would be building aircraft for a future that doesn’t exist and that few airlines are interested in. They should be focusing on a maximum 240 seater aircraft to better cater to what the market wants.

However, the biggest design change would be a flip from a widebody aircraft with two aisles to a narrowbody single aisle aircraft.

Why would the Boeing 797 be a narrowbody aircraft?

If Boeing does follow this suggestion and built an aircraft for the 240 seater 5,000 nautical mile market, they should build it as a narrowbody.

The reason is that a narrowbody aircraft has superior economics compared to a widebody over short distances. A widebody has great fuel efficiency but only over thousands of kilometers, whilst a smaller narrowbody uses less fuel taking off and landing within a few hours.

It is for this reason that the Boeing 737 has been so successful, and like the Airbus A320, one of the highest-selling airframes of all time.

In fact, if Boeing did go down this route they would be following in the footsteps of Airbus with their own A321XLR program. The A321XLR is designed to fly long distances with the cost-savings of a narrowbody aircraft.

So far the A321XLR has sold incredibly well, and with no Boeing equivalent, airlines have no choice but to choose it.

United A321XLR
United plans on replacing Boeing 757-200s with Airbus A321XLR aircraft. Photo: Airbus

But Boeing has thus far said that any future plane would not be designed in response to anything from Airbus, like the A321XLR.

“We will not design our next airplane on the basis of the A321,” Boeing CEO Calhoun mentioned to investors.

What do you think? Should the Boeing 797 be a narrowbody? let us know in the comments.


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It would make sense to go for a narrow body design, along the lines of a modern equivalent of the brilliant 757. The market is moving away from the hub and spoke model and therefore airlines requirements for large wide body planes is not what it used to be. They will need smaller planes that can do longer distances but carry a few more passengers. As long as the cabins are designed properly (much of that is down to airlines) then I would have no problem travelling long distance in a narrow body. There’ll always be a need for large… Read more »

Mark Thompson

Just do it. Paralysis by analysis.


Time for the 737 to go the way of the 727. Beside fly by wire and extensive composites, the fuselage should be wider to accommodate 18.6 inch wide seats like the A220 has. Instead of fuselages shipped by rail from Wichita, the airframe should be built on one line in one of the best places to manufacture, like Texas, Florida, Nevada. It should not be built in any of the worst states to manufacture like Washington or California.

High Mile Club

Texas and Florida are only good at certain times of the year barring weather concerns. Nevada would be ideal due to its dry climate. Washington isn’t great, but it isn’t like this has been much of a problem after all these decades.


I know that one reason boeing made a move to Chicago was due to the Seattle Aviation Union fighting for higher wages for there members. It was a huge issue when Seattle went to the minimum wage going to $15 bucks an hour. The union was wanting much much more for there members. I’m not saying that the staff doesn’t deserve a much higher pay rate for there highly important jobs. However it did boil down to pay rates being to high for there business model. I also agree that Boeing could and should use a minimum number of assembly… Read more »

Michael Sheargold

Let’s get a new highly capable single isle aircraft from Boeing so they can end 737 Max production. Of course they should shift up to 170 to 250 seats and let their engineers do the project they wanted to in 2010. I think the plans they had shelved in 2011 when they decided to do the Max need to come back into focus. Create an amazing shopping list and see how it can be delivered! I totally agree Boeing needs to get on with it and make a call. Interestingly if they don’t maybe the market will make it for… Read more »


There is the flip side to the economic discussion – twin aisle planes are faster to load and unload – and thus turn around quicker, which means less time on the ground and potentially able to operate more segments in a day. Twin aisle planes are also more comfortable and feel more spacious – even though that is the least concern for airline executives today. A new twin aisle plane made of composites and using highly fuel efficient engines would still be a feasible, and desirable idea, in my opinion. I have always hated the long narrow tube called the… Read more »

Gerry S

This Airbus guy and I are in agreement. Single aisle, composite everything, A220 type cabin. In addition to short haul capability a longer haul version should be compatible. This a/c could then replace both the MAX and the B757. B767s replacement could be the B787.


Boeing will need a new narrowbody, but I don’t think they should abandon the small widebody concept. As others have said, the twin isle will allow for faster turn around times. They can develop it alongside the new narrowbody just like the 757/767 were. The guy from Airbus clearly has his own agenda, because Airbus likes their current offering, and they don’t want to have to build a new aircraft to compete directly.


Let me give them a good suggestion. Why don’t they make a NMA (with the E2 jets in mind), built with a common metal fuselage size and 2 different composite wing set to cater the 150 – 270 pax. This is to preserve commonality between the air frames and cockpit but with the different wings, the lower end (small wing) can accommodate the short haul (A320 style) needs and maybe incorporate the stub wing concept for this segment. Whilst, the higher end (bigger wings) can be optimized for longer range and high capacity (A321 XLR). They could use same manufacturing… Read more »

Gerry S

@Matt: …….Guy from Airbus was smart. Even when Airbus makes positive comments about Boeing some still it as suspect. This hate thing is getting out of hand. Really!


Boeing may end up following Airbus’ footstep – 3 versions of single aisle narrowbody planes equivalent to A320NEO, A321NEO and A321XLR, all having the same fuselage with different length


Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.


Airbus made a smart move by creating the A321XLR. Boeing now literally don’t know where to put their money, especially with more limited funding available because of the MAX crisis. My guess is that the 797 will be a whole new narrowbody, possibly with rear mounted engines to allow easy powerplant change and a cleaner, more efficient wing. Many passengers in the US lament the passing of the DC-9/MD-80, and the Boeing 717 is still well liked by Delta passengers. This could be the best starting point.

Robert Sime

No doubts. It must be single aisle. The allure on an AC 747 First class upper lounge is gone.
Get there quick and with frequency.


Boeing playing catch up….. who da’ thunk. Corporate greed has shown it’s ugly face. 346 people plummeted to earth due to this malfeasance.


A 757 (797 NMA) single aisle is ideal multi purposes aircraft for long thin routes in single or multi class configuration whether in Africa or the Northern hemisphere. High versatility, high daily utilization and quick turnaround opportunities support support the carrier requirements, oportunities to access new markets. As a freighter, an aircraft in the 20 to 25 ton range to a broad based market. Low maintenance, Carbon fibre wings and modern cockpit assure this aircraft as being a low risk long term Global market success story!!!

Mark Ellsworth

The main reason that airlines and passengers DO NOT TO LIKE the 757 is that the very long, single aisle complicates boarding and deplaning. Turn-around times are terrible. So no. I disagree with favorable opinions of a 757 do-over from which you could also derive an FSA in a paired program like the 757/767 program of yore. The demise of the first NMA comes with the observation that the design did not catch fire with airlines. It’s possible that even with the twin-aisle, flat-oval concept, the economics still favored a single-aisle. Boeing flat out said, IT WOULD NOT BE DOING… Read more »

Paul Sery

Why not a narrow body with a wider aisle? Choose a tube width that allows an N% wider aisle but no more than 3×3 seating. That would make both short and longer trips more comfortable, keep the good economics while speeding up boarding a bit.


Most flights within Europe are on narrow body aircraft. I find it depressing and uncomfortable flying more than a few hours on such models, I am not a larger person. Do we really need such high frequencies of intercity flights by small single aisle planes? Would it not be more economical to have wide bodies on such routes and less frequency as we used to have back in the 1980s. Example London to Paris on an Airbus 300 Manufacturers showcase new planes with roomy seating configurations most of us never experience because airlines just want profit at all costs…… Its… Read more »