Guy Norris/LOS ANGELES
Boeing has restarted efforts which could lead to the rebirth of the New Large Airplane (NLA) concept, dropped in 1995 in favour of plans to develop the stretched, re-winged 747-500X/600X.
One of the initiatives is aimed at creating "faster, cheaper", processes which would enable Boeing and its suppliers to develop an all-new aircraft at half the cost of current projects. Although Boeing declines to offer any details, Flight International understands that the project's broad target is a 50% reduction in the 70-month timescale and $7 billion cost of the 777 programme.
Boeing's name for the project is the Airplane Creation Process Strategy, and it is led by its director, Walt Gillette, who was appointed to the position in January. "We met suppliers a while ago to begin discussing the issue, although we're not ready to talk about it much externally at the moment," says Boeing. The Airplane Creation Process Strategy group reports to Harry Arnold, executive vice-president of Boeing Commercial Airplane Group's define- and aircraft-development section.
Boeing is even more coy about the parallel initiative, which, according to suppliers, appears to be in its infancy. Under this second effort, Boeing has begun to re-assemble part of the engineering design group, which was split up and its staff dispersed to work on the 767-400ERX, 777-200X and -300X projects following the demise of the 747-500X/600X.
Sources indicate that the team is "-going back to reviving all considerations of the New Large Airplane", and that it is reviewing a wide variety of concepts. It is believed that the blended wing-body (BWB) work inherited from McDonnell Douglas (MDC) with the recent take-over is not in the concept review, although the team has had briefings from ex-Douglas design engineers.
Although Boeing has publicly stated that no business case exists for an NLA, sources say that the company "-is bothered about the fact that Airbus does not seem to be giving up on the A3XX". The company remains vague about the establishment of a new aircraft study group and claims that "-there is the same level of involvement that's been going on for a while. We continue to look at the market analysis and we have lots of activity going on with the 767-400 and 777X versions."
The study group is thought to be examining conceptual aircraft slightly smaller than the original NLA, which eventually emerged as 747-sized, seating 600 in three classes, with a range of 14,800km (8,000nm). A later, stretched, version was more than 91m long, and had tri-class seating for more than 750.
The favoured target appears to be an aircraft slightly larger than the MD-12, which was offered in two main versions: a 14,800km-range aircraft with 430 seats and a 13,320km range aircraft with 511 seats. The MD-12 was ditched by MDC in 1993.