Opinion: Is Boeing About to Launch Boeing 797?
With the Boeing 787 having too much range for domestic, regional and thin transatlantic flights, there has been a gap between Boeing's widebody and its narrow-body aircraft offering.
This gap has been made even more obvious by the little success recorded by Boeing's largest narrow-body aircraft, the Boeing 737-MAX 9, especially when stacked against Airbus's hot selling A321neo.
The reality is that the Boeing 757 and the Boeing 767 which once held sway in the so called Middle of the Market (MoM) segment, have all paid their dues and are now being phased out in favor of new technology aircraft.
Although it hasn't officially said it will build it, Boeing has publicly identified a gap in the market and is now actively talking with potential buyers for a new clean-sheet aircraft with 4,800nm to 5,000nm range and capacity for 200-270 passengers. If the programme is approved, it will enter service around 2025.
According to Boeing's initial analysis, the new midsize aircraft will have the payload and range characteristics similar to the Boeing 767-200 and operational economics similar to the Boeing 737-800 narrow-body. It's not exactly clear how Boeing will achieve this.
Apparently, airlines have long been waiting for an aircraft like this which they can deploy on long and thick domestic and regional routes as well as on transatlantic routes. And now, with pressure coming from airlines and leasing companies, the MoM aircraft now appears to be a question of when and not if.
Delta, United and Alaska Airlines' Executives differently spoke in positive light about the MoM programme, on the sidelines of the just concluded International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading (ISTAT) Americas conference held in San Diego.
According to its chief financial officer Andrew Levy, United Airlines has taken a close look at the new Boeing's Middle of the market aircraft and is very interested in it.
"What we’ve seen so far is very, very interesting to us, we certainly hope Boeing launches the airplane. We think there is a need for it." Andrew Levy said.
Boeing proposes that the new MoM aircraft will be a wide-body plane in two models, with power range of around 40,000lb-thrust, and will benefit from some of the composite wing technology that Boeing is developing for the 777X programme.
"One will be bigger and fly not quite as far, one will be smaller and fly farther," said Randy Tinseth, Boeing marketing Vice President. "To some extent you address the single-aisle market, to some extent you address the wide-body market and to some extent you are stimulating growth where no one has been before. And that has been a fascinating part of the whole project."
If eventually launched, the proposed Boeing 797 will cover the middle of the market between the Boeing 737 and Boeing 787 while replacing now out-of-production Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 which were developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s respectively.
African Airlines Perspective
With a capacity of up to 270 passengers, depending on the configuration, and a range of up to 5,000nm, the proposed Boeing 797 will definitely find a role in the fleet of some African airlines.
With good payload, the aircraft will comfortably fly such missions as East Africa to West Africa, South Africa to East Africa, West Africa to the Middle East and even West/East Africa to Europe.
The aircraft will be potentially good for Ethiopian Airlines' services to Nigeria including flights to Lagos, Abuja, Enugu and kano and services to South Africa and even the Middle East. The airline currently has 6 Boeing 767-300ER in its fleet with a capacity for up to 245 passengers.
Although, Kenya Airways is currently struggling to make profits and might not be looking at ordering new aircraft any time soon, the proposed B797 will be a good replacement for their widebody aircraft with too much capacity and range. Kenya Airways previously operated the Boeing 767.
Next month, RwandaAir will commence operations between Kigali and Mumbai, India using a Boeing 737-800, which from a passenger perspective, might be a little uncomfortable. But with the economics of a narrow-body plane, the proposed Boeing 797 will just be the right aircraft for such routes.
Other African airlines which might be interested in the Boeing's proposed 797 include EgyptAir, Royal Air Maroc, Air Algérie and Tunisair.
As we keep our fingers crossed, the questions remain: Will Boeing build the 797? If they build it, will buyers come? If buyers come, will there be African Airlines among them? Only time will answer these questions.
Photo by Fly Away Simulation
Chidozie Uzoezie is an Aviation Analyst, frequent flyer, freelance writer and travel blogger. He is the CEO of The Afritraveller as well as the Founder of the African Aviation Group on Facebook.