Boeing 797 Update – What’s The Latest?

The Boeing New Midsize Airplane (NMA), dubbed the ‘797’ by many, is a much needed and eagerly anticipated new product. However, with worries about the impact that the 737 MAX crisis is having at Boeing, and a recent managerial reshuffle, carriers are looking to the planemaker for more clarity on the timescales for the project.

Boeing 797
What’s the latest on the 797? Photo: Dj’s Aviation via Youtube

Management changes

Just over a week ago, the vice president and general manager of Boeing’s NMA development was switched into position as the lead on the 737 MAX program. Mark Jenks stepped into the shoes of Eric Lindblad, as the head of the MAX program took planned retirement, leaving the leadership position of the 797 team open for fresh talent.

Taking up the helm of the NMA development is Mike Sinnett, an 18 year Boeing veteran who has previously worked on projects including the 787, the 747 and the 737NG. However, rather than moving directly into the 797 program, Sinnett is taking on this role alongside his current duties as VP of Product Strategy and Future Airplane Development, which he’s been doing since 2017.

Boeing 767
The Boeing 797 will be about the same size as the Boeing 767 but will have a shorter range. Photo: Boeing.

With the added responsibility of leading the NMA program, Sinnett’s official title is now Vice President and General Manager, NMA Program, Product Strategy & Future Airplane Development Commercial Airplanes. That’s a very long title and a thin spread of talent across a broad scope of responsibilities. Understandably, it’s got some questioning what’s really happening with the 797.

United gave Boeing a prod

According to reporting by Bloomberg, United Airlines have been getting twitchy about where Boeing is at with the 797 development. Amidst the current 737 MAX crisis, the US carrier is worried that the timescales for the NMA could be slipping and has given the planemaker a prod to see what’s occurring.

The issue for United and many other carriers is that they are desperate to put in place a renewal plan for their fleets of aging 757 and 767 aircraft. These planes are starting to present problems, with an AD being issued just this week for the 757, and an NPRM just days before, which will cover both models.

Delta 757
Delta is the largest 757 operator in the US. Photo: Wikimedia

Maintenance means downtime, and downtime means loss of money and disruption to schedules. While the 757 and 767 have been great workhorses for carriers all over the world, their operators are now keen to see the back of them, or at least to have a strategy for their replacement firmed up. United Chief Financial Officer Gerry Laderman said in a conference call this week,

“We would like to see some clarity so that we can make the choice … But we do have a little bit of time.”

But how much time?

The fleet of aging 757s and 767s is no small matter. For the 757s, latest estimates put the worldwide fleet at 664 still in operation. The United States is home to the bulk of these, with 76 in United’s fleet, 34 in American’s and 127 still flying for Delta. For the 767, there are around 742 still in service today, 51 at United, 79 at Delta and 24 at American. In the US alone, the market for the NMA has a potential to be well over 300 aircraft, so these carriers are looking to its homegrown plane maker to deliver at timescales that are right for them.

Icelandair 757-200
Icelandair are heavily reliant on 757s and 767s. Photo: Icelandair

Iceland Monitor reports that Icelandair met with both Boeing and Airbus at the end of last month. With a fleet of 27 757s and four 767s, this is another carrier who is starting to become concerned about its future fleet renewal. Clearly, if the timescales for Boeing’s NMA don’t fit into their schedule, the carrier will be looking to Airbus for an alternative solution.

It’s not just airlines who are getting twitchy about the 2025 launch date for the NMA. Back in May, Analysts at Jefferies were reported by CNBC as anticipating a push back of the project. Jefferies analysts Sheila Kahyaoglu and Greg Konrad wrote in a note to investors that,

“There has been a lot of speculation about a potential NMA launch, although tempered by the 737 MAX grounding. However, this appears pushed out [with its entry into service] from 2025 likely extending to 2028.”

Other analysts have been casting similar aspersions on the timescale of the project. Bank of America’s Ron Epstein is quoted by Bloomberg as saying that the appointment of Sinnett as the lead on the project,

“…seems a clear sign that the NMA program is on ice. While this doesn’t imply the NMA program won’t happen, it now appears it won’t happen anytime soon.”

Airbus A321XLR infographic
The Airbus A321XLR is one of the longest-range narrowbodies on the market. Rendering: Airbus

Boeing is now under additional pressure to firm up a date for the NMA launch since Airbus announced the A321XLR at the Paris Air Show. While the XLR doesn’t completely fill the shoes of an NMA contender, it goes a very long way towards it and could be a worthy successor to the 757 and 767.

Boeing has said all along that it will decide by 2020 whether it will go ahead and launch the NMA. Clearly, airlines are hoping for something a bit firmer than that so that they can put their worries about future fleet needs to rest.

Simple Flying has reached out to Boeing for comment and will update once a response is received.

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Nigel

If you consult Wikipedia on the development of the 777X, you’ll find: “In 2010–2011, Boeing refined its response to the revamped Airbus A350 XWB with three 777X models, targeting a firm configuration in 2015, flying in late 2017 or 2018, and entering service by 2019.” So, in the case of the 777X, which is a re-iteration rather than a clean-sheet re-design, the time from conception to introduction was 9 years (actually, 10 years, in view of the newly discovered problem with the GE9X engine). Similarly, the 787 program took 9 years from conception (2003) to first delivery (2012). So, how… Read more »

Arthur at Runway 28L

The problem is habitually mendacious and lackadaisical McBoeing management, a phenomenon that infected Boeing after McDonnell Douglas’ reverse takeover of Boeing. Boeing’s sell-out to McD-D caused competent management to be sidelined and management that cared only about quarterly “shareholder value” got promoted. Boeing’s last “good” new airplane was the cleansheet 777 classic. Everything that has been produced thereafter has been McBoeing rubbish. I have friends that work in TechOps / Overhaul at SFO. They say that the last good Guppies (737s) were 737 Classics and early line 737 NGs. McBoeing’s new airplanes or reiterations of earlier models are more time-consuming… Read more »

Paul Proctor

The McDonnell reverse takeover theory is BS. Look at the composition of the Boeing Board of Directors, plus the heritage of Boeing leadership, especially the Executive Council reporting to the CEO, over the decade that followed. Frankly, as a long-time Boeing HQ employee, and AvWeek NW bureau chief at the time of the takeover, I feel McD brought a needed measure of fiscal responsibility to Boeing. And I would argue the merger and defense side saved Boeing after the 9/11 attacks, when the jetliner side lost 100s of orders and laid off over 10,000 workers on its production lines. Without… Read more »

Kp

Yeah. Airbus can’t wait that long to copy another Boeing design. We see how the A380 and A400 went

Paul Houle

Is it really worth developing a new aircraft for a market that is that small? Particularly when the A321XLR is ready today?

Alex

757 and 767 fleets will be reaching 30 years old by 2025, so If the NMA is delayed then Boeing are at high risk of losing some potentially large orders if customers get fed up of waiting and order an alternative product. The way it’s looking at the moment, Icelandair may order the A321XLR and United/Delta could order additional 737 MAX 10 and A321neo to completely replace 757/767 on shorter routes. Let’s hope Boeing can surprise us by doing some quiet yet significant development in the background and be able to launch the NMA at next year’s Farnborough Airshow, on… Read more »

Nigel

I doubt if Boeing will actually formally withdraw the NMA…it will probably just be put on the long finger, thus keeping airlines in the dark, and probably prompting them to order something else out of exasperation. For those who specifically want a widebody, there are 787-8s and A350-800s available relatively quickly…both of which have similar capacity to a 767-400ER (and the A330-800 has a 25-30% longer range). The A330-800 is cheap, because it had low development costs. And where’s this ridiculous figure of 4000 aircraft coming from? There were only ever 1200 767 orders, and 4000 is greater than the… Read more »

Albert Vitale

The NMA is and was Boeing’s to lose. Clearly Boeing management has made numerous errors including the short cuts on the 737 Max that lead to the current disaster.

The NMA could be successful but would require Boeing to commit NOW.

That is NOT likely to happen and Boeing will have squandered yet an other opportunity.

Time for the shareholders to scream and replace the BOD and management which have both proven to be inept.

Patrick

It seems like the A321XLR already fills the shoes of the 757-200 and the 767-200, and approaches the 757-300. Shouldn’t Boeing have started looking for a replacement a decade ago?

Shapes

Absolutely boing are behind, rather than designing new planes they’ve just revamped old ones to catastrophic results. In 5 years they will have no viable aircraft for the market, if they haven’t reached that point already.

Nigel

Another thing that fascinates me about the NMA: If it has a 2-3-2 seating configuration in economy, then every row has 2 aisles per 7 seats, which is 22.22% non-revenue-generating space. A 3-3-3 seating configuration in a Dreamliner has 2 aisles per 9 seats in each row, giving 18.18% non-revenue-generating space. A narrower fuselage generates less drag, but this is probably not enough to compensate for a 4-percent-point difference in revenue generating capacity. And what about business class? If an A330 fuselage has just enough space for business class suites in a 1-2-1 configuration, then an NMA fuselage will be… Read more »

Michael Pearce

What market is left for this in the US now? American has committed to 50 A321XLRs which they have stated will replace the 757-200s. Delta has ordered 100 A321neos to also replace 757s and also Mad Dogs, as well as 35 A330-900neos to replace the 767s. Only one left is United who already have a large A319/A320 fleet and also have A350s on order, and have been one of the hardest hit from the 737 MAX groundings… and yet somehow this plane is going to sell thousands? I don’t buy it. Boeing were too little, too late, and airlines are… Read more »

Vee

Gotta agree

Shapes

I have raised the issue before, that in 5 years boing will have no viable new aircraft in its selling inventory. In reality even now it has very little to offer. The max is based on a 60+year old design, the 747 is about the same age, the 777x has numerous problems and hasn’t even flown yet, and like the dreamliner has a limited market.
Boing needs to cut its losses and start developing the NMA with haste .