Air Lease Corp founder Steven Udvar-Hazy flashes a squinty grin and says he cannot reveal Boeing’s design secrets for the still-unlaunched clean-sheet aircraft concept to follow the 777X family into service after 2022.
“I know the answer, but I can’t tell you,” says Udvar-Hazy, speaking on the sidelines of the ISTAT conference on 10 March. “It’s really not correct for me to tell you what’s going on in the design chambers in Seattle.”
Udvar-Hazy is, however, legally able to express his personal preferences for what he describes as a 200-250-seat aircraft occupying the yawning gap in Boeing’s portfolio between the 737 Max 9 and the 787-8.
“This is just my own personal view. It’s going to evolve somewhere between a 757 and 767-200, size-wise,” Udvar-Hazy says. “It’s going to be somewhere in that zone.”
Although often referred to as a 757 replacement, Udvar-Hazy’s discussions with potential airline customers suggest the aircraft should be a different sort of creature. It should have the 7,000ft runway take-off performance of the 757-200, giving it the capability to access New York’s metropolitan LaGuardia airport, he says. At the same time, it should resemble the size of the original 767-200, a twin-aisle aircraft.
Asked if he prefers a twin-aisle aircraft in that size category, Udvar-Hazy’s coy grin returns: “Yes - and sometimes we prevail.”
If Udvar-Hazy’s preferences do hold sway, Boeing’s next project could challenge chairman and chief executive James McNerney’s admonition last year that the company seek to avoid “moonshot” development projects in the future.
Packaging a twin-aisle fuselage width into an aircraft with the take-off performance of a single-aisle – while not, presumably, sacrificing ever higher fuel efficiency targets – seems a high challenge, but one that airlines are saying they need.
“We want something that has a wide utility, a wide application base,” he says. “So it can’t be too big, yet you don’t want it to be just a replica of a 737 Max 9. And it’s got to make sense for the next 30-35 years.”
For three years, Boeing has acknowledged interest in the market space between the 737 Max 9 and the 787-8. It remains focused on developing an aircraft with about 20% more range and greater size than the 757-200, says Randy Tinseth, vice-president of marketing for Boeing, who addressed the ISTAT audience on 9 March.
As Boeing has studied the market , Airbus has launched a long-range version of the A321neo that can nearly match the size and range of the 757-200. Despite Airbus’ recent move, Boeing feels no pressure to respond immediately by launching a new product while several aircraft models – including the 737 Max, 787-10 and 777X – remain in the development pipeline, Tinseth says.
Boeing’s steady pace is also driven by the company’s desire to avoid the schedule delays, production bottlenecks and operational bugs that plagued the introduction of the 787.
“They want to avoid mistakes of the past,” Udvar-Hazy says. “I think Boeing is being thoughtful about this next step.”