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Jun 22, 2017

No, we still don't have a Boeing 797 despite all the hype

Boeing's vague 797 ambitions may reflect uncertainty among airlines as to what they really want such a jet to do

A teaser graphic as to what a 797 might look like

After yet another Paris Air Show in which all the hype about the launching of a Boeing 797, or a Boeing MoM, or a Boeing NMA and so forth, has produced nothing definite, it might be appropriate to question some of the statements made on the elusive project’s behalf.

Many of those statements are canvassed with meticulous accuracy in this exemplary report on CNN Money.  This isn’t about shooting the messenger, but dissecting the contents of the message.

Boeing has briefed reporters that “The jet would fill a gap between Boeing’s single-aisle 737 workhorse and its advanced long range 787.”

However it also briefed that “It would seat between 220 and 270 passengers for flights of up to 5,200 nautical miles, or just over 10 hours.”

Boeing contradicts itself massively with these simple statements. The newly augmented 737 MAX series (with the launch of the 737 MAX 10) and the 787 Dreamliner family already have that mythical gap covered. There are some 787s in service with as few as 180 odd seats flying Dreamliner routes that appeared to be predominantly about as long as the North Atlantic routes between east coast USA and the western reaches of the EU and the UK. There are many more 787s flying such routes there, and within the Asia Pacific, with higher seat counts.

The 787 is often flown with more seats than 270 and as befitting its well demonstrated versatility over everything from rather short to very long ranges. The single aisle 737 family benefits from the MAX family’s improved engine technology and other refinements to the extent where it is being introduced on trans north Atlantic routes, and is well sized to allow flights from smaller sized cities to do that non-stop, bypassing the hell that is JFK or LHR where the demand profile is judged by airlines to be worth addressing.

If the 797, or whatever it is designated, is to compete with the capabilities of aging out of production 757s, or currently available 737s and 787s and the Airbus alternatives, it has to do something more than overlap them in range/payload combinations.

But what? It could fly those routes with more comfort, if Boeing makes it say a seven across twin aisle jet similar in passenger amenity to the much missed Boeing 767 family. By 2025, which is four Paris Air Shows from now, Boeing says the jet could be in service, and no doubt, with further cost reduction improvements to those achieved by current designs.

Yet the notion that an airline might fly a fleet of 797s against a proven and perhaps largely depreciated fleet of less comfortable 737s and 787s seems on the face of it implausible, no matter how desirable it could be. Airlines could achieve the same restored level of amenity as a 797 might offer by reconfiguring their by then older MAXs and Dreamliners to give back the legroom and hip room and usable toilets that they are racing each other to confiscate today.

Do we really need a clean sheet all new design to give back to passengers what has been ill advisedly taken away from them in recent times?

It seems obvious reading between the lines of official statements from Boeing that it doesn’t really know what the airlines want from a 797, and when it comes to product planning it is also obvious that some airline managements can’t think past the next few years in terms of financial goals and regard what might happen in 2025 as being irrelevant to their ambitions.

Paris 2019 is probably much closer than any definitive, binding decision as to what, if anything a 797 will be.

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24 thoughts on “No, we still don’t have a Boeing 797 despite all the hype

  1. ghostwhowalksnz

    Very astute observations ben. if Boeing takes 5 years to decide to add 2 seat rows to the max 9 how on earth is it going to handle high change – high risk design they are have been flying kites with. I get they wont tell the competition what they really are up to but the
    real advances are in automated production and much lower cost fibre which are of real interest to the airlines.

  2. comet

    Boeing is in chaos. A quagmire.

    Combine that with an aversion to making any new airframes, and you’ve got a company in paralysis.

    But hey, we’ve got a nice airplane over here called the 737, which is based on commonality with the 727, and has a front-end that dates back to the Boeing 367-80. Its low ground clearance harks back to its 1960s vintage, but let’s see if we can make this airframe live on for another 20 years until the year 2037. Give it some new wingtips. That’ll do.

    1. ghostwhowalksnz

      Airlines are addicted to big orders of cheap narrow bodies especially of old style planes with grandfathered design details.
      Couple that with activist shareholders and private equity groups ( the number of public companies on the main stock exchanges has halved in the last 20 years) you have to keep ‘feeding the chooks’ or they will cut your large company into little pieces

    2. Tango

      I think you are wrong (and I certainly have been critical of Boeing and the Max 10)

      This frees them up as they have a semblance of an A321 competitor (-10) and the NMA is not about existing routes, its about opening up a new range of routes.

      1. Mark Skinner

        That’s what they say tango, but the point of Ben’s article is “What routes would the 797 open up that isn’t already covered in the market?”.

        Is it a gap in Boeing’s own line? Or a gap in the market as a whole. If it’s a gap in the market as a whole, they should be moving smartly to cover it before Airbus…and the glacial pace doesn’t imply that. If it’s just a gap in their own line, and they’re trying to catch up to Airbus in the market segment, Boeing is in a tough place. It takes a huge bundle of cash and time to enter a market segment, and when they do, it’s guaranteed that Airbus, having made money, will cut prices to the point where Boeing will bleed. At some point, Boeing will have to do that though, or wither away.

        Hence the paralysis.

        1. Dan Dair

          Mark Skinner,
          I refer you back to my posting on a previous page here of B797 guff.

          The B737 could be reborn with the same fuselage, tail-section & wings, but with a wholly-new wing-box to attach revised wing inner sections & a brand new & taller undercarriage.
          70-80% old airframe. Minimal, though still significant re-design costs. Minimal re-tooling costs for the production-line.

          It would give Boeing a B737 that would match & possibly exceed the capabilities of the A320
          AND would give them the opportunity to stretch it out to A321 (B757/MoM) lengths.

          That would be a whole lot more of a sound investment for Boeing.?
          Take what they already have, which is known, proven & already in place & then enhance it.
          A cheaper & safer option than a clean-sheet replacement.

          Investors would like it, engineers would appreciate it, production managers would welcome it
          AND the existing operators would probably have minimal pilot conversion time & minimal engineering differences, so they’d welcome it too.?
          (There’s even an outside possibility of generating a sideline of converting ‘old’ B737’s to the new spec at their first D-check.?)

          But Boeing won’t do any of this until after the B777-X is completed (possibly even later than that),
          because they have neither the cash nor the engineering resources to run two major development programmes anymore.!

          All this B797/MoM guff is to deflect away from that one point.
          To the untrained eye (ie. the general media) it looks like they’re really busy in their design & engineering departments,
          but actually it’s only the marketing & PR departments that’re doing all the work at the moment.?

          1. Tango

            The world progresses.

            Materials change. Options open up.

            At one time, a Model T would barely get out of its way.

            Now Corvette makes a car that can do 180 mph with no problem, and you can buy it for under 70k.

            Boeing feels there is a mid area market that you could not previously build and airframe to serve.

            So, you compromised if there was enough money in it, you did fuel stops, you got a 767/A300 etc.

            Boeing feels with materials and the allowed advance in design ability and understanding of how to best use those materials, you can build a dedicated 4500 mile aircraft that is not heavy on freight as that market is does not call for freight in the belly (single aisle do not carry a lot of freight, its delivered less costly unless a priority and even then FedEx does that)

            Boeing feels there is an upper end of that MOM and a lower end. The A321 and 737-9 nip on the lower end, but no model can even match the 757-200 for non restricted range and pax. The 757-300 as a single aisle was getting too long for efficient ops.

            Airbus can grown the A321 a bit and compete at the lower end, it can’t cover the middle and upper end.

            While Boeing management has proven to be deficiency , their engineers have always answered the challenge.

            The 787 is a magnificent example. 99.999% of the issues were management, not engineering or their use of materials.

            They just pulled a MAX rabbit out of the hat that stole the Paris Airshow (over the 787-10 no less that no one thought they would make!)

            So, dis Boeing management all you want, their marketing division nailed the 787 area (1200 sales and counting so far?) and the engineers came through.

            Sneer all you want, serious aviation people know they are serious.

            If they can pull the cost aspect off its a go.

            Good news for them is they have the 787 and 777 to borrow from.

          2. Dan Dair

            Tango,
            I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.?
            Max-10 stole the show…….????
            ….. by turning out to be better than the other 737 options Boeing are currently offering & taking most of its orders from existing customers converting-up their existing orders.

            Meanwhile ‘Boeing thinks & Boeing thinks & Boeing thinks’,
            but all the time that Boeing are thinking,
            Airbus is actually, right now, really selling a real airframe into the general area of Boeings MoM sector, completely & utterly unchallenged by any Boeing product at all.
            Consequently, Airbus will be getting very close to whatever the list price is for that product, since customers have no leverage to buy any alternatives instead.

            Didn’t you read Zarathustra’s ‘Vapourware’ comments.?
            Do you really, honestly believe that the B797 is just around the corner.?
            The B777-X has been just around the corner for about 3 years & isn’t actually in-sight yet.
            The B737 replacement has been talked-about by Boeing for about fifteen years & instead they’ve managed to stretch out the airframe further & further, to the point where they’re now restricted on the engines they can use with that airframe. (stretching the airframe IS their prerogative & the fact that they’ve managed it yet again is a credit to their engineering capability)
            But the fact is, that the basic airframe design is 50 years old & would be massively enhanced by upgrading the undercarriage & changing the wing-spars for a modern wing-box design, even if they chose to retain most of the rest of the structure of the airframe.?

            It’s pretty clear that Boeing no-longer has either the engineering or the financial capability (unless it’s both.?) to run two development programmes at the same time.
            The B777-X didn’t get underway until the B787 was in service & it got held up again by the ‘787’s in-service problems.
            The B777-X is now Boeings current project. I’ve no idea when it will actually enter service, I suspect it will still be getting-on for a year.?
            Only at that point do I believe that Boeing will actually start to commit any genuine resources into whatever its next project will be.
            And IMO Boeing would be better served enhancing & upgrading their existing B737 for a relatively small investment, rather than starting with a clean-sheet design & spending huge amounts of money on a project with a much longer completion outlook.?

  3. reeves35

    Whilst fuel remains cheap, and there are no signs that it will increase in the short to medium term, there is very little incentive for airlines to invest in a whole new type that has significant upfront capital cost and risk and very little in the way of operational savings.

    Already a number of airlines are holding off purchasing or taking delivery of the current new range of airliners (MAX, NEO, A350 787 etc) because they are making really good money on flying around fully depreciated 10-15 year old planes that can be brought up to latest cabin standards comparatively cheaply and pax can’t tell the difference.

    1. Tango

      An others are buying aircraft like gangbusters.

      Flawed thinking.

  4. Zarathrusta

    Quelle surprise! I’ve always said the MOM was that Seattle specialty: Vaporware. It’s a furfie designed to spoil A321neo sales, nothing more.

    1. Tango

      Well oddly enough, the much maligned (and by myself as well) Max 10 did a good job of it by itself!

      I do think you are totally incorrect. It now appears Boeing really has that hold the line aircraft they needed in single aisle (Max 10) and we will see the 797 launched by the end of this year.

      1. Dan Dair

        Tango,
        When you say ‘the 797 launched by the end of this year’;
        are you saying we’ll see the first full-size mock-up by then,
        or the first flying prototype,
        or will it simply be the ‘launch’ of a new spate of high-quality graphics & press-releases.?

        Also, it’s Boeings own ‘teaser-graphic’.!
        So it’s Boeing that put that style of winglet in the photo, not Ben.

        1. Tango

          Dan:

          I know you don’t know a lot about Aviation so here is a simplified primer (simplified as the dynamics of an aircraft launch are more complex interaction wise due to where a company is at, economy, fuel etc)

          1. Marketing identifies a segment that is in need of an aircraft (or like the 737, one gets so old it can’t be upgraded, marketing plays little or no role)
          (Sonic Cruiser)

          2. Marketing and BAC (commercial division) explores the market and what they have available materials wise and engine possibilities to get into). Yep we can do that.

          3. Once an idea (still and idea) is fleshed out, they take it to the airlines and the airlines say, oh that sucks, or, nah, not for use, or wow, that’s cool and fits right in. Sonic cruiser got killed here, but the airlines said, what we want is modern material and efficiency in a regular airframe as that is where we can make money, speed is not the need.

          4. Ok, we have interest, but the limits are 80 million per copy.

          5. At this point thought Boeing corporate would have been aware all along that this was floating, they go to management with a formal proposal. We have a commitment ragne of up to 3000, we can do the materials, we know the engine can be made.

          At this point you get the 787 Shark Tail and the sales guys go to work getting commitments on not an exact version, but the full up conceptual one with its cost and economics, engines and systems (and in this case a wide flat body aircraft)

          797 fits in about here. It looks very interesting, the board has okayed further exploration.

          If this firms up with real interesting and commitments then it goes into formal launch.

          Details (Fin) change but the concept is adhered to.

          With the success of the Max 10, I predict they will go into the formal part this year with the basic design details.

          Actual design waits for a full program launch.

          1. Dan Dair

            Tango,
            So when you say launched by the end of the year,
            do you mean they’ll have the airlines requirements, nailed-down & agreed to by Boeing.?

            Presumably then that will mean that we’ll be looking at a minimum of a five year development programme for this clean-sheet design. (Always assuming of course that Boeing have learnt all the lessons from the B787 pre-production failings.?) And it’s not unreasonable to assume that Boeing will not have the capacity to devote any substantial resources to the B797 project until after the B777-X has been turned over to an actual production aircraft, which might yet be between 12 to 24 months away.?

            So between right now & whenever the -X is completed, we can expect no meaningful progress on the B797 and from whenever development does actually begin, we should expect around five years (possibly a little more) before we see the aircraft in service.?

            That gives Airbus a period between now and 2023/4/5 to make-hay with their A321 sales, to which Boeing has & will continue to have, no competitor airframe to offer.?

            Honestly Tango, I can’t understand why they’re not taking the wings off the B737, sticking a new wing-box on it & re-attaching the wings to that, whilst at the same time bolting-on a new undercarriage set. The current wings were massively revised about 5 or 6 years ago so they’re pretty contemporary.
            I’d reckon that it would be a 2-3 year development which would require little or no pilot conversion or engineering maintenance changes. Airlines (or at least their accountants) would love it….. minimal changes & minimal on-costs, plus Boeing could then start to look at a ‘Super 73’ stretch to make it as long as an A321, possibly longer if the airframe can stand it.? Perhaps taking as little as another year to develop.?
            & that would be your MoM right there.!
            Anything bigger could be covered by a -7 shrink-down of the B787.?

            Suddenly, there’s no need for an all-new airframe because Boeing have made what they’ve already got, suitable the market-sectors they want to serve.!

    2. comet

      “Seattle specialty”???
      The only other company I know from the Seattle vicinity is Microsoft.

      1. ghostwhowalksnz

        Amazon too, Starbucks, Costco

      2. Zarathrusta

        That’s exactly who I was referring to. “In the computer industry, vapourware is a product, typically computer hardware or software, that is announced to the general public but is never actually manufactured nor officially cancelled.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaporware

        “Vaporware is often announced months or years before its purported release, with few details about its development being released. Developers have been accused of intentionally promoting vaporware to keep customers from switching to competing products that offer more features.”

        When I refer to the Seattle disease in past posts, I’ve always meant vapourware. Presumably, vapourware can also be “sold” to shareholders to keep them paying the incumbent management.
        Vapourware is particularly favoured by market leaders or other vendors that already have the customer by the short and curlies.

  5. LongTimeObserver

    Sadly, that which airlines confiscate in the name of ‘efficiency’ and low unit costs — ergonomically-appropriate seat pitch and width, and ‘conveniences’ like lavs — never returns. Even on held-over, ‘owes them nothing’, fully-depreciated equipment.

  6. Tango

    Ben: You really need to at least photo shop the winglets out.

    Boeing does not use those on new wings, just older ones.

  7. comet

    The 797 is like the mythical unicorn.

    Everyone has heard about it, but nobody has ever seen it, or will ever see it.

    1. Dan Dair

      Comet,
      I’m starting to feel the same way about the B777-X.????

      1. Tango

        Hmm, the fact that the 777-X is in full design and initial production on the wings has stared (in a billion dollar factory just for those wings has been build) means we deny reality?

        1. Dan Dair

          Tango,
          I’m not trying to say the -X actually is mythical.
          I was expressing my feelings about how long it’s taking Boeing to complete what seems like a relatively-straightforward upgrade programme.?
          I accept that these are major upgrades, but it’s not like it’s a clean-sheet design that’s got to go through masses of proving on an entire aircraft.?

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