(This first appeared as a Comment in the 18 February issue of Flight International)
Getting an aviation industry executive to comment meaningfully on the record about a possible new product years ahead of a potential launch is not an easy task. The scripted response to such queries is a series of banalities always prefixed with the disclaimer: “Of course, we’re always looking at everything.”
So when a Boeing executive at a major industry event concedes the company is in the “early stages of studying” something new, it deserves to be noticed.
The comment – about a possible 757 replacement at the Singapore air show by chief salesman John Wojick – inches the airframer further down the road of addressing a glaring market gap in the 200-250-seat range between the 737 Max and 787-8 for a medium-haul airliner.
It also allows Boeing to tackle the 737 Max 9’s competitive weakness against the Airbus A321neo and creates a template for the replacement of the Max family. The bottom line is that no aircraft in the market today can replace the 4,000nm (7,400km) capability of the 757, and that gap creates an opportunity for the airframer.
It is still offering plenty of disclaimers. There is, for instance, “no timeline” on making a decision about the 757 replacement. Boeing also has plenty already on its developmental agenda until at least 2022, with the 737 Max family, the 787-10 and the 777-9X and the 777-8X still to deliver into service.
That allows at least three years to study a range of technical decisions about the next project.
The 757 replacement – if realised – would be the first clean-sheet aircraft launched by Boeing since the 787 in 2003. It raises a range of technical questions: Will the airframer consider a twin-aisle design? How much will composite structures be adaptable to the high-frequency, sub-250-seat market of the future? Will a new centreline engine be required to support the project?
Above all, the company faces a critical credibility test on any new clean-sheet aircraft that follows the 787. It is not surprising Boeing talked about ways to minimise production cost almost in the same breath as disclosing early “studies” of a 757 replacement. Echoes of the “Aircraft Creation Process Strategy” cannot be ignored. Launched in the late-1990s and led by Walt Gillette, that focused on minimising production costs. Its conclusions helped form the 787 development strategy, including the now-discarded outsourcing model.
The 757 replacement opportunity may give Boeing a chance to do things right, and make up for the mistakes of the past decade.