Boeing's corporate ban on "moonshot" commercial projects still leaves plenty of room for its aircraft designers to innovate – but not too much room.

That seemed to be the Paris air show theme delivered by Mike Sinnett, Boeing's vice-president of product development, as the airframer publicly muses over plans for a new "middle of the market" aircraft concept.

In May 2014, Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney famously banned the commercial aircraft division from pursuing "moonshot" projects like the 787, a clean-sheet aircraft design that entered service 3.5 years late and billions in the red.

But that doesn't mean the manufacturer has lost its appetite for launching all-new aircraft, Sinnett says. Indeed, Sinnett displayed a concept for a roughly 737-sized truss-braced wing aircraft. Such a design enables a step change in aerodynamic efficiency. The 787 entered service with a wing aspect ratio of 11, a record for a modern airliner. A truss-braced wing can provide an aspect ratio of 15 or 16, Sinnett says.

"Just because an airplane is a different configuration, that doesn't necessarily make it a moonshot," Sinnett says. "It's innovative, but it's not necessarily technologically risky."

That doesn't mean Boeing plans to start developing a truss-braced wing as the manufacturer's next aircraft-development project.

"When I look at all the competing requirements right now, it's not clear to me that any configuration besides the typical configuration that we all know and love would meet the combination of requirements from the customers over the near term," he says.

But the new development project also can't resemble what made the 787 development strategy qualify for McNerney's "moonshot" putdown.

"When I think of what made the 787 a moonshot, it was like this: we were going for everything – as much possible fuel burn [reduction] as we could get, as much maintenance cost reduction as we could get, as much comfort in the cabin as we could get, trying to optimise a production system and partners in the world in ways we've never done before. We even invented a new airplane to carry the parts around the world, and we did that in the middle of the programme," Sinnett recalls.

"So when Jim says 'moonshots', how I think about that and how I instill that into what I do on a daily basis is, it's not 'don't innovate'," he adds, "but don't innovate on the critical path of the programme and put the programme at risk."

Source: Cirium Dashboard