Boeing is assessing which segment of the commercial aircraft market it should actually address with its next aircraft development programme, suggesting options other than its proposed New Mid-market Airplane (NMA) may be on the table.
Speaking during Boeing’s 2019 earnings call on 29 January, chief executive David Calhoun also insists the company will not design its next aircraft purely as a response to the hugely-popular Airbus A321neo.
“We have asked the team to step back and reassess our commercial product development strategy to determine what family of airplanes will be needed in the future,” Calhoun says.
For several years Boeing talked of launching the NMA, an aircraft with 270 seats and 4,000-5,000nm (7,400-9,300km) range. But the 737 Max grounding delayed the NMA beyond an ideal mid-2020s launch, and in the meantime Airbus attacked the mid-market niche with the 2019 launch of its A321XLR.
Boeing will not make a knee-jerk reaction by rushing an aircraft to compete with the A321XLR, according to Calhoun.
“This is a decision [that] me and our new commercial aircraft leader wanted to make. We will not design our next airplane on the basis of the A321,” he says. “I know where the NMA is targeted now. I want to be sure I understand everything about the widebody, narrowbody world.”
Without addressing specifics, Calhoun insists Boeing’s next aircraft programme will leverage tools that will significantly “differentiate” it from competing products.
“I want to make sure we have an airplane [specification] that I believe in,” Calhoun says. “As soon as we come to a [specification] on what we want to do, we will move forward very quickly.”
The NMA had been weaved tightly into a broader Boeing plan to transform its production system, analysts have said. The aircraft would have only incremental technology improvements but would serve as a platform by which Boeing would begin modernising production in preparation for launching the 737 replacement, an aircraft dubbed the Future Single Aisle (FSA) aircraft.
Richard Aboulafia, industry analyst with Teal Group, suggests Boeing might leap over the NMA and instead move straight to developing the FSA. Perhaps, he says, the FSA could include a larger variant suited for the mid-market segment.
“It’s also possible that they do nothing, and simply continue returning cash to shareholders. That would be disastrous for the company’s market standing,” Aboulafia says.