Despite spending months pleading for patience, Boeing executives are now telling employees a launch decision for a new airliner aimed at the “middle of the market” (MOM) could be made by the end of the year.
In an all-hands meeting with employees on 10 February in Seattle, Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Ray Conner said the new project could receive a go-ahead decision as early as 2016, sources say.
Since at least 2012, Boeing has identified a gap in the market between the single-aisle 737 Max 9 and the twin-aisle 787-8. A two-year series of discussions with customers revealed a consensus for an aircraft with about 20% more range and payload than a 757-200.
Until now Boeing executives revealed no urgency behind a launch decision. In fact, only a day before Conner’s address to employees, Boeing vice-president of marketing Randy Tinseth said his time “have a lot of time to work through it” before making a decision.
But the 737 Max 9 has struggled to compete against the Airbus A321neo, which is outselling Boeing’s re-engined product by more than a five to one margin. Sales of the 787-8 also have cooled off since the introduction of the stretched 787-9.
But the company has a six-year backlog of major commercial projects already in development, starting with the entry into service of the 737 Max 8 next year. The 787-10 is scheduled for delivery in 2018, followed by the 777-9 in 2020 and then the 777-8.
A MOM aircraft is not likely to appear before 2022, giving Boeing at least six years to complete development if a programme is advanced later this year.
Several potential customers, such as Air Lease founder Steven Udvar-Hazy, have pressured Boeing to deliver a clean-sheet aircraft that combines the range and payload of a small widebody, such as the 767-200, with the operating economics of a narrowbody like the 737-800.
Two industry analysts have concluded such an aircraft would likely require a new fuselage shape – elliptical instead of circular – to reduce aerodynamic drag while still providing enough payload.
Such an aircraft also may require new engines sized in a thrust-class between existing narrowbody and widebody engines, leading GE Aviation chief executive David Joyce to speculate last year that a clean-sheet engine design would be required.
But other concepts are reportedly under consideration, including a larger version of the 737 Max.
[UPDATE: Clarifies the decision by end-year will be about whether to go-ahead with programme and not a formal launch decision.]