Airbus A321 First Flight - Mobile, Alabama FAL
First US built A321 takes off recently from Airbus America in Mobile, Alabama

Two more pressure points have been applied to Boeing’s 737 MAX single aisle program, and the company’s apparent disarray over defining a new jetliner project described as a Middle of the Market or MoM airplane.

Earlier this week US carrier JetBlue ordered more Airbus A321s, the very model of its single aisle family that is doing the most damage to Boeing’s uncompetitive 737-900 and 737 MAX 9 alternative offerings.

That order includes 15 of the new engine option or high-tech A321NEOs, which would allow JetBlue to take on lower density but non-stop routes across the North Atlantic, and compete directly with the similar ambitions of the low cost Euro-Asian operator Norwegian.

The impact of these developments using longer range single aisle jets across the world’s most fought over air routes will be comparable to the recent decision of AirAsia to get 100 such A321NEOs for use in the Asia-Pacific hemisphere.

But just after the JetBlue announcement it was reported that Boeing is delaying payments to critically important suppliers to “better manage cash” and made its first loss in almost seven years.

As the Bloomberg report linked to above makes clear, this ought not be overstated and made to sound like a backs-to-the-wall crisis. However it does raise questions over Boeing’s capacity to fund any of the various MoM concepts it has floated since last year.

Boeing has to show airlines both its preferred all new design, and its board and investors, the money to build it. A year of leaks about what it might, will, could, or may do has worn out its welcome, and Airbus is continuing to eat its lunch with a much better thought out and operationally attractive range of single aisle new tech remakes of the A320 family.

Airlines appear divided as to what they want in an MoM, in terms of size, range, and whether it should be single aisle or twin aisle. In the current market, where airlines are ordering single aisle jets that may not be delivered until well into the next decade, Airbus may be winning its orders on capabilities, and Boeing, on price. (Boeing is tipped to land a small order for 737 MAX jets from Malaysia Airlines this week. )

Those who follow Boeing’s fortunes have been told by company officials that it is considering a 737 MAX 10 to do what the MAX 9 can’t, which might, or might not, involve a version of the CFM LEAP engine currently only able to be fitted underneath the wing of the A320 NEOs because they have the necessary ground clearance.

This has caused its own set of problems in that adapting the MAX line to cope with the larger diameter of the engine used on the Airbus NEOs will be costly.

Constantly leaking details of something that then keeps failing to materialize will prove ever more damaging if airlines give up and choose an alternative that is flying and comes with commitments to further efficiency upgrades in coming years.

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