Airbus's chief salesman John Leahy has dismissed Boeing's view that there is a market opening up for an all-new aircraft in the so-called middle-of-the-market (MoM) sector.
He argues that the capability of the Airbus A321LR variant of the A320neo family, which is being marketed as a 757 replacement, was endorsed by the deal from Norwegian announced at the Farnborough air show. The low-cost carrier switched 30 of its A320neo orders to the larger A321LR, describing it as a "short long-haul" aircraft. Norwegian will configure its A321LRs with around 220 seats in a single-class layout and will use them on transatlantic services.
"You're seeing airlines placing orders in record numbers for A321s, converting A320 to A321s. Even Norwegian, a big Boeing operator, is saying 'I need A321s'," says Leahy. "I think we know exactly where the market is, and it's probably where [Boeing] wishes it wasn't, but we've got that market."
However, Boeing's head of marketing Randy Tinseth dismisses the notion that the A321neo is the answer to the MoM requirement.
"Frankly, when we talk about the middle of the market, it's an airplane that the A321 doesn't serve today or in the future, or that our 737 Max doesn't. It's a unique opportunity and I can tell you that, just based on the response we've seen from our customers," says Tinseth.
Tinseth says that based on Boeing's studies to date, the MoM aircraft would be 20-25% bigger than the Boeing 757-200 and able to fly 20-25% further. "No [current] airplane can address either that size or range, so we've got some work to do."
Boeing estimates that a 20-year market for at least 2-3,000 aircraft, and perhaps as many as 4-5,000 units "if you build a really good airplane", says Tisneth.
It's unclear exactly what engine technology Boeing will adopt for the MoM project should it go ahead, but Tinseth says he expects the aircraft "would come to the market around the middle of the next decade. That's 10 years from now, so we'd expect [a step change] from the engine manufacturers."