Boeing needs to reinvigorate aerospace competition with a new aircraft programme, former Airbus Americas president Barry Eccleston said on 12 February, calling for the US airframer to introduce a smaller aircraft than its original draft for a 270-seat New Mid-market Airplane (NMA).

“The dominant Airbus, Boeing duopoly” has dulled competition as a motivator for innovation, Eccleston told an audience today during an International Aviation Club luncheon in Washington, DC.

With the need for competition in mind, Eccleston, who served as president of Airbus Americas from 2005 to 2018, said “it’s in everyone’s interest – including Airbus” that 737 Max aircraft are fixed and returned to service “really quickly”. He also encouraged Boeing to launch a new aircraft programme as soon as possible.

When Cirium asked Eccleston how the Chicago-based manufacturer could maximize competition with its next aircraft programme, he responded he is “very encouraged” that Boeing’s newly-appointed chief executive David Calhoun intends to challenge Airbus and is reevaluating what the NMA should be.

The former Airbus executive says he “never believed the business case” of the NMA as it was originally proposed. “The market is between 160 to 240 seats and 3,000nm to 5,000nm, that’s where the volume production is,” Eccleston adds. “I’m probably going to lean towards a single-aisle rather than a twin aisle for that volume market.”

The first draft for the NMA called for a range of 4,000-5,000nm (7,400-9,300km) with 270 seats for airlines to replace ageing Boeing 757 and 767 fleets.

“We will not design our next airplane on the basis of the A321,” Calhoun told investors during Boeing’s 29 January earnings call. “As soon as we come to a [specification] on what we want to do, we will move forward very quickly.

“I know where the NMA is targeted now. I want to be sure I understand everything about the widebody, narrowbody world.”

Airbus’s A321XLR – which debuted at the 2019 Paris air show – seats 200 passengers and has a range of 4,700nm. Eccleston argues that the -XLR addresses a similar market to the 757, which likewise seats about 200 passengers and has a range of 4,700nm. Aging 767 fleets, he said, could be replaced by newer, long-range 787 aircraft.

In December, United Airlines delivered a major blow to Boeing when it announced an order for 50 Airbus A321XLRs as it embarks on its replacement programme for its aging Boeing 757-200 fleet. The US major has said it is encouraged that Boeing continues to explore the NMA project.

Teal Group aircraft industry analyst Richard Aboulafia, who also attended the speech, tells Cirium that any new aircraft programme would have to be designed with potential market shifts in mind.

“There is a revolution happening in airline route structures,” Aboulafia says. “People don’t want to connect, they would rather fly nonstop. When you fly direct, you get people to pay more to fly direct and you save money by only having to take off and land half as many times as you would through flying hub and spoke.”