Boeing has so far at the Paris air show been keeping fairly quiet about its plans for the New Mid-market Airplane (NMA), but potential customers and suppliers have indicated that progress is continuing.
Air Lease executive chairman Steven Udvar-Hazy notes that the airframer "is spending a lot of resources" on the NMA. "They have hundreds of people working full time on that project," he says. "Due to tragic events, other priorities have emerged... so I believe until those issues are fully resolved this project will be in cold storage."
The launch by Airbus of the A321XLR long-range single-aisle on day one of the show has sparked discussion of the potential impact on Boeing's NMA plans. According to Boeing, the NMA family will straddle the top of the narrowbody sector and bottom of the twin-aisle market.
"The launch of the A321XLR doesn't mean that there will not be another manufacturer offering an aircraft in the middle-of-the-market category," says Udvar-Hazy, referring to the NMA.
GE Aviation chief executive David Joyce says he thinks the NMA is likely to be bigger than the new Airbus single-aisle, given that a three-variant NMA family is envisaged.
"We've always thought that the NMA is a little bigger than the A321XLR. Think 767-300 kind of size," he says. "All of the studies we have done, with Boeing as well as on our own, they are actually starting with the '-7' version – which is the middle size – not the '-6', for a reason."
He adds that he believes that "the final plan is the -7 and the -6. The -6 is a smaller variant."
Joyce also says that the NMA powerplant proposal to Boeing from GE's CFM International division will be based on a sole-source bid "because the size of the market, we don't think, supports the investment for two engine manufacturers to split that market and try to get any kind of recover on that investment in a timely fashion".
His understanding is that the other NMA bidder, Pratt & Whitney, will seek similar terms.
Boeing Commercial marketing vice-president Randy Tinseth says the company's focus at the moment is the safe return to service of the 737 Max, but the timeline for NMA remains stable: "Our plans are to look at potential offerability of the NMA this year, and entry into service would be around 2025, so those plans haven't changed."
Tinseth notes that Boeing foresees long-term demand for about 4,000-5,000 aircraft in the "mid-market" category. "Those airplanes would come from three places – upgauging from single-aisle market, downgauging from widebody market, and if you optimise it for that market you'll stimulate some demand as well."
Additional reporting by Jon Hemmerdinger