The Boeing Future Small Airplane – A 737 MAX Replacement?

We’ve all heard about the NMA, Boeing’s new midsize airplane, dubbed the 797. But did you know there’s another pot bubbling on the stove too? The Future Small Airplane, or FSA, is a top-secret project that could produce a successor to the 737 MAX. Boeing has reportedly been discussing it quietly with some airlines around the world, but what do we know about the FSA so far?

Boeing FSA
The Boeing FSA could be the replacement for the MAX we need. Photo: PXhere

What could we expect from the Boeing FSA?

Boeing are working hard to keep the details of this little jet under wraps, and clearly there is still a long way to go before it’s officially launched as part of its project lineup. However, there are a few things we can expect to see in any new iteration at the short-haul end of Boeing’s spectrum.

Firstly, we would expect it to sit in the middle to top end of the current 737 MAX specifications in terms of passenger capacity. Somewhere in the 180 – 220 passenger range would be likely, making it slightly more capacious than the MAX 8. Range wise, it would need to be a jack of all trades, capable of being efficient on those shorter, high-density routes, but also able to have fuel tanks added to extend its range and keep it competitive with the competition.

And when we’re taking competition, Boeing should be looking towards the Airbus’ A321XLR for the top end of its product line. Meeting the passenger capacity shouldn’t be too hard; a stretch on the 180 – 220 pax airframe should put it within the maximum passenger capacity of the A321neo of 240. The range, however, would be dependent on Boeing getting smart with the way the aircraft is built.

The Boeing Future Small Airplane – A 737 MAX Replacement?
Boeing could learn a thing or two from the XLR. Photo: Airbus

It’s unlikely Boeing would look to scale down the FSA, at least not to the extent of something like the 737 MAX 7. Anything less than 150 passengers is getting pretty close to what Embraer can accommodate with its largest E195, and with the Boeing Brasil thing poised to take off next year, the planemaker won’t want to cannibalize sales of either model with a new aircraft.

What does Boeing need to design into a successor to the MAX?

The main problem with the MAX is that it’s based on a 70-year-old airframe. Over the years, the 737 has been tweaked and wiggled to evolve from the Classic to the NG and eventually to the MAX. The superior range and efficiency of the MAX was only achievable thanks to those big, efficient engines; much bigger engines than were originally intended for that plane.

This subsequently meant things had to be done to the plane itself in order to accommodate said engines. Centre of gravity shift was compensated for with MCAS, the engines were flattened on the bottom for ground clearance and various other aspects were twiddled with in order to make it work.

737 MAX
The 737 has been reworked time and time again. Photo: Boeing

What we need, what Boeing and aviation in general needs, from a replacement is a complete and utter, back to the drawing board, clean-sheet design. Nothing should be carried forward from the MAX (apart from perhaps some learnings about certification and such) and the company should start all over again.

Boeing should be bringing to the party all the wonderful things it has done with the Dreamliner. The cabin pressurization, the composite wings, the new engine technologies. All of that in miniature, please Boeing. And it wouldn’t hurt them at all to take a look at what the competition is doing well with the neos and the A220s either.

Will the FSA get built?

Whether anything comes of this FSA rumor remains to be seen. Right now, Boeing has an awful lot on its plate. However, there is a strong possibility that the NMA (797) could be dropped in favor of working on the FSA instead.

As we’ve seen, both United and American Airlines have plumped for the already existing Airbus A321XLR as a replacement for their  Boeing 757s. While there’s no perfect replacement for the 767 as yet, the smaller Dreamliners and Airbus’ own A330-800 are filling in the gaps nicely. It may be a case of too late to the party for any NMA, considering it is yet to even be officially announced.

737 classic
The 737 has been a staple of Boeing’s business for many decades. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr. 

The 737 is Boeing’s biggest selling aircraft, and is the bread and butter of its commercial aircraft business. The world is crying out for an overhaul of the 737, and is in far more need of that than of this mythical 797 right now.

As we said, all this is top secret (apparently, although it’s one of those secrets that everyone knows) so Boeing is suitably tight-lipped about the whole thing. For now, it’s a case of wait and see. Perhaps when their 777X finally gets its certification we’ll see which way the planemaker will jump.