Boeing Hints At New Direction For NMA Refocus
SINGAPORE - Boeing appears to be redirecting its next new airliner project to compete more directly with the long-range Airbus A321XLR rather than take on the broader 757-767 replacement market previously studied under the shelved New Midmarket Airplane (NMA) project.
“We are learning what the (A321) XLR is doing, or not. That also gives you a good idea of what the market may want,” Boeing Commercial Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing Ihssane Mounir, told Aviation Week during the Singapore Airshow. His comments offer the first new clues to where Boeing's product development efforts may refocus in the wake of the company’s decision to go back to the drawing board on the NMA.
Since Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun revealed the decision in January that the “NMA project is going to be a new clean sheet of paper,” there has been speculation the effort may be redirected to cover a new airliner family that could cover the present 737 MAX as well as the 757. However, Mounir’s comments suggest the prime focus may be shifting to settle primarily on the 200 to 240-seat, 4,700 nm.-range category of the new Airbus. Launched in 2019, the A321XLR will be delivered from 2023 and has already taken 450 orders including contracts from both American Airlines and United Airlines.
Provisionally targeted at entry-into-service in 2025, the NMA grew out of 757-replacement studies and over the past five years was expanded to include a successor to the 767. The program was focused on two main versions, the 225-seat NMA-6X and 275-seat NMA-7X, with the larger of the pair expected to be developed first. But Mounir says “with NMA we never crossed the line with customers in terms of ‘this is perfect for me’. It is frankly something we looked at two years ago and when you look at the market today you have to re-address if it still makes sense to have exactly this concept.”
Boeing has “learned a lot,” from the NMA study – including both market expectations on operating costs and pricing, as well as how to develop a new production system targeted at making twin-aisle designs for single-aisle manufacturing costs. “That’s going to allow me to do things I haven’t been able to in the past,” says Mounir. “So now if I take that input and look at the production system maturity what can I come up with? Is it the same NMA I could do before or is there something else I could do?
“The beauty of it is we haven’t launched anything so you can always refine the concept and figure out what the right aircraft is for the marketplace,” says Mounir. “The product development team will redirect their efforts to look at a fresh concept and internalize all we have learned through the exercises we have had with customers, but I can tell you we are not flogging anything that we are discussing with customers right now.”
The move, if confirmed, also raises questions about Boeing’s longer-term replacement strategy for the 737 MAX and how this might be influenced by the development of a new aircraft sized to compete more directly with the A321XLR. As Boeing conventionally develops families of aircraft, a downward shift in size for any new 757 successor aircraft could also potentially entail the development of a smaller stablemate that would encroach on the upper end of the current 737 range.
Mounir also scotches speculation that Boeing could dust-off its long-abandoned 787-3 derivative as a potential replacement for the larger NMA market sector. “The key to the NMA is the production system – and the production system around the 787 produces true long haul capability with a certain rate and a certain yield. You have got to be able to match yield to pricing, so if a 787-3 is produced within the same system I just don’t see how you could do that within the same production system from a yield standpoint.”