As the aviation industry continues to plow through a challenging year, Boeing’s attention is turning to the future. Despite a terrible first quarter for the US planemaker, the key to its recovery will be a strong vision of what the future industry needs. With plans for the NMA shelved, Boeing could now be contemplating a revamp of the 757 and 767 programs to meet future demand.
Boeing looks to the future
Since David Calhoun took the reins at Boeing at the beginning of the year, all bets for the planemaker’s next new model have been off. The previously anticipated New Midsize Airplane (NMA), widely referred to as the 797, was abruptly shelved amid reports that the new CEO wanted to take a fresh look at the entire Boeing lineup.
Since then, the coronavirus crisis has changed the aviation landscape drastically. With next to no demand for air travel, the need for new aircraft has dried up too. Both Boeing and its rival Airbus have been dealing with cancellations and deferrals of orders, not to mention considerable losses in the first quarter.
Nevertheless, Boeing appears focused on the future, as a spokesperson told Reuters yesterday,
“We’ll continue to look at what the future market will need and invest in research and development.”
That development, it seems, involves a new look at the NMA, but perhaps not the clean sheet design we’d been anticipating. According to the Reuters report, the firm is looking at one new 757 style aircraft, while also giving the 767 something of a refresh.
The 767 refresh
Back in the fall of last year, it was rumored that Boeing was in discussion with General Electric about a 767X, a revamped widebody with new engines that make it fit for the future. There was some mention of new wings as well, although Boeing never confirmed any such plans.
The final passenger 767 was delivered in 2014, but since then, the production line has been ticking over with a slew of orders for freighter variants. There remains a backlog of 86 of the type, mostly for the 767-300F with a few military KC-46 also.
While the aircraft has a healthy future as a freighter, it needs upgrading to meet emissions standards by 2028. This could well involve new engines, and could open the door to a new passenger variant too. With all the tooling still in place, a new and improved 767X is not entirely off the table yet.
With the rising interest for high efficiency, long-haul narrowbody aircraft, Boeing needs to come up with a plan to prevent an Airbus monopoly. The forthcoming A321XLR sets a new standard in small, versatile planes, and is being marketed by Airbus as an NMA solution. Boeing has a large number of customers who are still flying the now obsolete 757 and will be keen to provide a replacement for these aging aircraft.
According to the Reuters report, any replacement for the 757 would need to have a greater range and more passenger seats than the original version. Apparently, it is already being nicknamed internally the ‘757-Plus’.
Such an aircraft would tick many of the 797 boxes; an enhanced range to compete with the XLR, likely around 5,000 nautical miles, and a similar or higher seating capacity, probably 250 or so. While a 757-Plus would lack the twin-aisle configuration that was perceived to be a must in the NMA, its ability to connect point to point destinations economically would likely offset its narrowbody downsides.
As we emerge from the coronavirus crisis, the world’s planemaker will be asking themselves what sort of an aviation marketplace they are going to be going into. We’ve already seen numerous large widebody aircraft retired, and Boeing has already anticipated a slowdown in the production of its flagship 777X.
If large widebodies are no longer in demand, Boeing would do well to get working on replacements for the 757 and 767. A timely release of the right aircraft for the market conditions could help the manufacturer overcome what has to be one of the worst years imaginable.
What do you think? A clean sheet NMA or a refresh of the 757 and 767? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.