PARIS – As Boeing launched the 737 MAX 10 with a blockbuster 350 orders, commitments, and conversions over days one and two of the 2017 Paris Air Show, the Chicago-based manufacturer also took the time to provide further clarity on its future solution for the so-called middle of market (MOM) space.
After a briefing by Mike Delaney, Boeing’s VP & General Manager of Airplane Development, it is becoming clear that Boeing is edging ever closer to formally launching a new mid-sized airplane (NMA) for entry into service (EIS) in the mid-2020s.
In his presentation, Delaney laid out several of the factors that Boeing will be using to determine the NMA, which it sees as having a more expansive mission than the A321neo or 737 MAX 10 (Airbus’ current claim to MOM success).
If you’re company A [Airbus], you would say ‘we already do this and we sell a very large heavy airplane optimized for 6500 miles, and you can put it on a 5000-mile mission.’ What we [Boeing] did with the 787 was we wanted to match the  300ER seat cost at significantly lower trip cost. That gave airlines the opportunity to think about having a family of planes that could open thinner routes at a much lower risk of trip costs. Now do the same thing in the market below the 787. Company A wants to serve the current pie in a zero sum game. We want to grow the pie.
This in part explains Boeing’s decision to launch the 737 MAX 10 alongside the NMA. The MAX 10 by itself doesn’t quite match up to the A321neo at the high end in terms of payload range – it is not a trans-Atlantic aircraft.
But by taking away the requirement to compete with the A321neo on short haul routes, the 737 MAX 10 allows Boeing to truly optimize the NMA for a medium haul (2500-4500 nautical mile mission).
Both the A321neo and a theoretical stretched A322neo are optimized for a shorter mission than that, even if they can fly longer flights. In the current generation of aircraft, the NMA will thus be the only plane optimized for this type of mission (the A330-900neo and 787-8 are optimized for routes in the 4,500-6,000 nautical mile range). That is one of the underrated strategic drivers behind Boeing launching the 737 MAX 10.
Delaney reiterated this strategic framework in his commentary during the briefing.
[The NMA] will have a 30 lower percent trip cost versus a fully depreciated A330ceo and re-use a lot of the enhancements from the 777X and 787. It will have a new wing, 2nd-century digital architecture, Next Gen super-efficient propulsion, and extensive use of composites. The design will be concurrent with future production systems with a hybrid cross section. The NMA will have twin-aisle comfort, with single-aisle economics.
The 737 MAX 10 also keeps Boeing in the game in the MOM space until the NMA is ready, which will not be until the middle of the next decade. During his presentation, Delaney presented a slide that laid out a potential timeline, with EIS tentatively planned for 2025.
While the slide doesn’t demarcate the dates for individual subcomponents of the development process, it roughly points to a formal launch in late 2017 or 2018, assembly beginning in 2021 or 2022, first flight in 2022 or 2023 and EIS around 2025.
This is by no means an aggressive design schedule in the modern era despite some of the challenges faced by programs like the Boeing 787, Airbus A350, and even A320neo. The 737 MAX 10 gives Boeing the timeline flexibility to get the NMA. And Delaney reiterated that Boeing is still very early in the process.
We are very new in a program that’s not launched but we already know what the production will look like. We want to build the first couple of airplanes on the computer. That’s the power of the digital thread.
Vinay Bhaskara also contributed to this report