Qantas Hopes Boeing Will Make The 797 NMA

Qantas is eyeing Boeing’s new midsize aircraft 797 NMA as a possible replacement for its short-haul fleet. But Boeing’s NMA still remains very much in the conceptual stages. It might be a long wait for Qantas. Nonetheless, in comments published yesterday, Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce said he was hoping the NMA went into production.

Boeing 797
Qantas is reportedly interested in Boeing’s 797 NMA Photo: Dj’s Aviation via Youtube

A report in The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, Wednesday, November 6, 2019, has Mr Joyce mulling on replacements for his short-haul fleet, currently dominated by Boeing’s 737-800. My Joyce is considering the A320, A321, 737 MAX and the 797 NMA. This order would be in addition to the A220s the airline is considering to replace its fleet of Fokker 100s and Boeing 717s.

Short-haul fleet renewal decision expected next year

Qantas intends to make a decision and a subsequent announcement about its short-haul fleet renewal in 2020. Mr Joyce will have to wipe the dust off his checkbook as it is going to be a busy 12 months of orders from Qantas. In addition to the short-haul fleet order and the Fokker 100 / Boeing 717 replacement order, the Project Sunrise order is flagged to be placed by the end of this year.

On the face of it, the NMA seems like an unusual short-haul choice for Qantas. The airline is looking to replace its short-haul fleet over the next 10 years. It’s entirely possible an aircraft can go from drawing board to departure gate in that time. But as Joanna Bailey reported in Simple Flying last month, there is no word from Boeing on when or even if the plane will be built.

To some extent, it could be a catch 22 situation. Boeing needs launch customers to move the aircraft off the drawing board. But launch customers need a timeline that isn’t going to blow out and be beset with problems.

Boeing 787
Will the 797 NMA have the same problems and delays that other new Boeing aircraft, such as the 787, have had? Photo: Boeing

And of course, Boeing’s current run with its new aircraft isn’t exactly stellar. New 787 Dreamliners were grounded with engine issues (strictly speaking not Boeing’s fault but still not a great look), the new 737 MAXs are grounded altogether, and production of the long-range 777-8 remains in limbo.

It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence about a timely and trouble-free entry into service for the 797 NMA.

What would Qantas do with the 797 NMA?

The other factor that makes the NMA a seemingly slightly oddball choice for Qantas is its size. The NMA can seat around 250 passengers and, remember, Qantas is thinking about this as a replacement for its short-haul fleet.

Its utility would be restricted to a few key routes, such as Sydney – Melbourne, Sydney – Brisbane, the transcontinental runs to Perth, and some selected busy short-haul international routes like Melbourne – Auckland and Sydney – Auckland.

You’d be hard-pressed to find other short-haul routes that have the passenger numbers to warrant a 250 seat aircraft. Sure, you could cut frequency, by cutting back say, two Melbourne – Adelaide flights to one flight. But Qantas’ domestic operations makes most of its money from business travel and that sector values frequency and choice.

From an operational point of view, there’s nothing to stop Qantas from deploying the NMA onto most short-haul routes. From an economic point of view, it wouldn’t make sense. The restrictions on where the NMA can fly and make money do make it an interesting choice for Qantas.

qantas-project-sunrise-pilot-dispute
Is Mr Joyce serious about the NMA or is it just a thought bubble?. Photo: Qantas News Room.

But to Mr Joyce, the 797 NMA seems to stack up. He told the Sydney Morning Herald;

“We’re looking at the second-largest city pair in the world, Melbourne-Sydney … and there are no more slots at [Sydney’s] Kingsford Smith at peak times.

That market will grow as the two cities are growing … [so] at some stage you want to have bigger aircraft.”

Final thoughts

One possible order outcome in 2020 is a combination of an NMA order for the busiest trunk routes, smaller capacity aircraft such as the A321 for less busy trunk routes such as Adelaide – Brisbane, and smaller yet aircraft like the A220 to take over the Fokker and Boeing 717 routes.

Would this eventuate? It does seem an overly complex outcome with all the inherent problems in overcomplexity. But most of all it relies on the NMA eventuating. There are too many improbabilities and uncertainties with the NMA right now. For this reason, Mr Joyce’s NMA dreams might remain just that. 

Could Alan Joyce really afford to take a punt on Boeing and its NMA? What do you think? Let us know and post a comment.

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Brody Cyr

I personally think the 767X is more likely than a 797 if Boeing wants to get something out before 2030, which by then Airbus will have secured the “Middle of the Market” field leaving Boeing without many customers for a NMA.

Henning

Couldn’t Airbus derate the engines and limit the MTOW on their A330neo-800 and aim it at the upper end of the “middle of the market”
Japan Airlines uses a derated A350-900 on it’s domestic routes with a pax of 369 and an MTOW of 217 tons

G. E. Williams

Airbus could do that. A version of the A330neo serving the “middle of the market” would be a solution that points out the obvious; that we should think about NMAs. And not assume that one aircraft has to cover all bases.

Vince

A derated engine doesn’t save much. It’s benefits are mostly from longer maintenance intervals rather than lower fuel consumption. Many of the A330ceo have derated engines for short haul operations and the cost benefits very much came from the lower landing fees and longer maintenance intervals. Their fuel consumption are still very much similar to those with the nominal ratings.

Henning

The difference in fuel consumption is in take-of and climbing trust, at cruising its very similar. But as you say the engine maintenance is the largest cost saver.

Peter

This link includes an analysis of the performance of a 767X, and concludes that it’s a non-runner.
You can’t read the full content without a subscription, but the summary is clear.

https://leehamnews.com/2019/10/31/is-reengining-the-boeing-767-a-good-idea-part-3/

Dennis

Meanwhile, the A220 is already out there, proven and ready to deploy, while the B717s and F100s are starting to rot. The A220 will cover all of the “regional” routes currently covered by these aircraft, and a bit more. If Qantas really is happy to wait for unknown years before the unproven 797 comes into production (and to be honest, “Boeing” and “unproven” is a dangerous game right now), then it will demonstrate the shameless commercial priorities between the two.

Peter

Maybe Alan Joyce has been offered big discounts on the NMA in return for a commitment to the 777-8 for Project Sunrise, and now he wants to know when he can expect his deal sweetener to be delivered 😉

I agree with Dennis above: I think the NMA is an idle fantasy.

Vince

The NMA will provide qantas the flexibility they wanted. Like how the A321XLR will open up opportunities for Jetstar, the NMA will do the same for Qantas. Sydney/Melbourne to many of the smaller south east Asian destinations like manila, cebu, phuket, penang, danang, siem reap etc could really use the NMA’s smaller capacity to offer direct connections to and from Australia.

William

Qantas May fly an A330 on a domestic route between Sydney and Melbourne and then schedule the same aircraft to Manilla mid morning. Obviously the NMA could do that.

In-Frequent Flyer

It’s not too late for Boeing to launch the NMA, even if it will take probably until 2030 or a little less to get it into the market. They just need to fix the issues with the other two aircraft first before full focus can be shifted. At least until the 777-8 is in production. Some think it won’t come, but it doesn’t take much to shorten a fuselage and give it extra space in the tanks. It already seems like Qantas has a plan in mind for the other 3 planes.

Trond Eie

Boeing must start up ASAP.No time to lose.

Gerry Stumpe

Sure is optimistic of Mr Joyce towards the 797. I doubt that bird will fly anytime in the near future. Should stick with the A220. More capacity? A220-500.

JFP

The Boeing 797 won’t get as far as the Douglas DC-7D did… Thanks to the U.S. government, it’ll be a miracle if Boeing survives another year.

IanFromHKG

“Boeing’s current run with its new aircraft isn’t exactly stellar. New 787 Dreamliners were grounded with engine issues (strictly speaking not Boeing’s fault but still not a great look)”

True, but to me the bigger issue was the way they kept bursting into flames. Which *was* Boeing’s fault. I’m a little surprised you forgot about that…