Boeing is taking a fresh look at the design of its so-called New Mid-market Airplane due to changes in the global aviation market and heightened focus on pilot-aircraft interactions.
“We are going to take, probably, a different approach,” Boeing chief executive David Calhoun says on 22 January in response to questions about the NMA. “We are going to start with a clean sheet of paper, again.”
Calhoun, who made his comments just days into his new role as Boeing CEO, provided few details, saying the company’s primary focus remains on existing products, starting with the Max, and on improving the company’s safety and engineering functions.
But he cites market shifts as one reason for the NMA reevaluation.
“Things have changed a bit… The competitive playing field is a little different,” Calhoun says. “We have to plan for China.”
Boeing proposed the NMA several years ago and had anticipated that the aircraft would carry about 270 seats, have 4,000-5,000nm (7,400-9,300km) range and enter service around the mid-2020s, just in time for 757 and 767 retirements.
But NMA development has seemingly been on ice since the 737 Max grounding last March. In the meantime, Airbus stepped in, launching the A321XLR last year. That aircraft has proved enormously popular with airlines.
Calhoun says Boeing now realises the NMA’s design must center around the flight control system and how pilots interact with that system – a topic highlighted by the 737 Max crashes.
“We might have to start with the flight control philosophy before we actually get to the airplane,” Calhoun says of NMA development. Design decisions related to “pilots flying airplanes” are “very important… for the regulator and for us to get our head around”.