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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Brody Cyr

A new model will be nice but I will miss the classic workhorse look of the 737.

Bryce

I think that, sooner or later, Boeing will have to see the writing on the wall and go for a clean-sheet FSA. Even before the LR and XLR versions of the A321 were introduced, the A321 neo was outselling the 737 MAX 10 by a factor of 5-to-1. And the… Read more »

Trent

The MAX murdered the 797. That simple. The whole idea of the MAX was to squeeze another development cycle out of the old 737. Not only was that a bad idea (two crashes) the MAX is less competitive in all aspects besides price to the A320 family. Boeing’s profit center… Read more »

Trent

What would be exciting is to see Boeing launch a new line of planes that encompass FSA and NMA, like what they did with the 757 and 767.

Gerry S

Kind of late to the game. By the time this bird is ready the competition will already be working on their improvement. In hindsight, Boeing should have given up on the B737 improvement program. This new a/c however should restore their reputation. Boeing wants to go big to win big.… Read more »

ATS

They need to commit to a brand new FSA before a brand new NMA. The NMA issue could simply be solved by shrinking the 787-8 (a “787-7”) as that would put it close in passenger capacity to the 767-300. No one wants the 737 max.

Victor K

Probably they are already working on it. When they bring this news within a year they actually admit that the Max is a peace of ****. So you al have to wait a little longer guys

TonytTDK

Boeing have been talking this particular talk for at least 5 or 6 years that I know of personally & others I knew told me at the start of that involvement, that Boeing had already been talking the same talk for 5 years or so then.? I am extremely dubious… Read more »

eolosbcn

A lot of plans from Boeing, but the reality is what it is. An old upgraded plane version that doesn’t work, the MAX, and another one, the 777X, with a lot of problems and delays. A320 being the top sold airplane of the history (and sales begun 23 years later… Read more »

WR2

As a Boeing stockholder, I was always skeptical of the economic viability of the 797. I hoped it was just an empty threat to force Airbus to react. I do hope they instead pursue a new 737 airframe since that’s where the majority of their sales are, and that’s where… Read more »

AirlinerSpotter

I believe the FSA was actually the plan before American Airlines hint they would buy a new B737, which triggered Boeing to build the MAX. The rest is history, sadly.

Lalo Galo

For us florida people, the FSA is the most annoying thing ever

Mark Smith

Boeing should standardize its cockpits over all of its models, using fly-by-wire. This reduces the need for retraining pilots and is one of Airbus selling points. 737 replacement could be a shrunk down 787. This is a contentious debate but many pilots love the Airbus sidestick because it leaves room… Read more »

Mark Ellsworth

Boeing has been talking to airlines for years about a 737 replacement. Lack of interest is why they did the Max instead. It’s cheap, it is known, and it is more efficient than the competition. That’s what the market wanted, a money maker. The alternative A-320 is also quite good.… Read more »

Blair

“Boeing are”? Shouldn’t that be be ‘Boeing is’?

pavkoz

They probably would make a single family of aircraft with the capacity of B737-800 and B757-200.

Andy

In WW2 Germany was producing the Junkers 88 medium bomber; it was fast in its day but by the end of WW2 it was d****d by its pilots as being unruly and very tricky to fly, owing to the weight and equipment increases. If the Germans couldn’t push the design… Read more »

TheDude

All this clean sheet talk…must be nice to constantly blather about it when you don’t have to fork over the start up capital for it. A380 was a clean sheet and now it is basically gone in a short amount of time. A350 is good. 787 is good.

Transworld

MCAS had nothing to do with center of gravity. At a stall which no airline pilot sees outside a simulator the engines surface provides more pitch up than the regs allowed. That is what MCAS was about, to smooth that feel out and duplicate the NG. its not stall protection… Read more »

JFP

I’m sure Boeing already has a name for this aircraft: “Sonic Cruiser II”

Anonymous

It does seem like right now every manufacturer except Bombardier/Airbus with the C-Series/A220 is building off of their previous designs, like with the 737 MAX, 777x, A320neo family, and A330neo. The best thing to do may just be to start from scratch with a new aircraft type.