A China Southern 777-300ER, one of Boeing’s biggest airplanes, passes in front of two smaller jets, including a Boeing 787, at Paine Field last Friday in Everett. Boeing is rethinking earlier plans to offer a new mid-sized airplane, which would have served a niche just under the capacity of the 787. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

A China Southern 777-300ER, one of Boeing’s biggest airplanes, passes in front of two smaller jets, including a Boeing 787, at Paine Field last Friday in Everett. Boeing is rethinking earlier plans to offer a new mid-sized airplane, which would have served a niche just under the capacity of the 787. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Could it be a 737 replacement? Boeing is rethinking the 797

Some industry-watchers speculate the New Midsize Airplane might not be mid-sized at all. Boeing is mum.

EVERETT — The launch of the Boeing Co.’s much-anticipated New Midsize Airplane, the so-called NMA or 797, is on a slower track now while the company re-evaluates airline needs.

Chief Executive Officer David Calhoun, who took the reins Jan. 13 after former CEO Dennis Muilenberg was fired, said Wednesday that the company’s plan to rethink the NMA’s feasibility is “not intended to delay but refresh.”

“I’m just simply going to listen to customers and markets,” Calhoun said Wednesday on a conference call to discuss dismal financial results for 2019, in which Boeing booked its first loss since 1997. “It’s been over two years since we started that whole discussion. I’m going to refresh it every way I can think of, along with my new commercial airplane leader, and then we’ll get out with new news.”

Calhoun was expanding on comments he made about the NMA last week, when he said “things have changed a bit … The competitive playing field is a little different.”

Meanwhile, he said, he will mostly be focused on getting the grounded 737 Max back on track this year while others work on a business case for the next new airplane model — whatever that may be.

Talk of a new airplane model two years ago prompted Washington politicians and business leaders to begin lobbying for Boeing to build the NMA in this state. In 2018, Choose Washington NMA, a coalition of elected officials, businesses and unions created by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, commissioned a report intended to help convince Boeing to build it here. It was widely believed that Boeing planned a big reveal at the 2019 Paris Air Show. But that expectation vanished after the Boeing 737 Max was involved in two deadly crashes, just five months apart, that killed 346 people. The Renton-built plane has been grounded since March.

So Choose Washington and others have shifted their focus from the 797 to broader promotion of the state’s aerospace sector.

As the 737 crisis deepened last year, aviation industry analysts began to speculate that Boeing might turn away from an NMA and focus instead on development of a single-aisle Future Small Aircraft, or FSA, which would replace the 737.

Calhoun on Wednesday dodged industry analysts’ attempts to pin down what might be next, or where in the product line the next new airplane would land. “We’ll take the time to reassess our product development strategy in a fairly methodical way,” he said.

The company was stingy about details, but the 797 was initially envisioned as a medium-sized aircraft smaller than a 787 but bigger than a 737. That market had been estimated to be worth roughly $1.5 trillion. Boeing at one time anticipated demand for 4,000 to 5,000 of such airplanes over the next 20 years.

Richard Aboulafia, a prominent aerospace analyst and vice president of the Teal Group of Fairfax, Virginia, has said the “middle segment — basically jets with 190 to 250 seats and 4,000- to 5,000-nautical-mile range,” about 1,500 miles more than the 737 Max, “is the only really healthy part of the market.”

But as Guy Norris, a senior editor for Aviation Week, wrote this week: “The overall rethink on NMA means that Boeing’s product development strategy is … more likely to pivot back to studies of a Future Small Aircraft (FSA), a new generation family covering the roughly 160-220 seat sector that targets the bulk of the current 737 market.”

Other analysts interpreted Calhoun’s comments about the changed landscape as a signal that Boeing might abandon plans for an NMA because the market has already been cornered by Airbus.

Aaron Hilsz-Lothian, writing for SamChui.com, an online aviation and travel website, said “the highly successful launch of the Airbus A321XLR, at the 2019 Paris Airshow, has resulted in too little market share left for Boeing to make the current ‘797’/NMA design worth it.”

Calhoun said Wednesday, “We’re in the airplane development business and we’re going to stay in the airplane development business. So we’re going to keep looking at what the next one needs to be.”

“I just want to get exactly the right airplane for the market that’s out there,” he said. “And I want to refresh our view as to what it is. The last two and a half years have been tumultuous. It has tested some of the, in my view, some of the edges of demand on all types of airplanes, and so we have to learn from that. But I will not hesitate to move forward on it.”

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Funko warehouse in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Funko to close Everett warehouses, shift work to Arizona

The company headquarters are currently in downtown Everett, but distribution will move to a Phoenix suburb.

FILE - In this Monday, March 1, 2021 file photo, The first Alaska Airlines passenger flight on a Boeing 737-9 Max airplane takes off on a flight to San Diego from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. A Boeing pilot involved in testing the 737 Max jetliner was indicted Thursday, Oct. 14,2021 by a federal grand jury on charges of deceiving safety regulators who were evaluating the plane, which was later involved in two deadly crashes. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Alaska Airlines to add Boeing 737s to the Paine Field fleet

It’s a sign of the growing popularity of flying from Everett. So far, much smaller Embraer E175s have been the rule.

FILE - Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson talks to reporters, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, during a news conference in Seattle. In a 5-4 decision Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, the Washington Supreme Court upheld an $18 million campaign finance penalty against the Consumer Brands Association, formerly known as the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Ferguson sued the group in 2013, alleging that it spent $11 million to oppose a ballot initiative without registering as a political committee or disclosing the source of the money. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington justices uphold $18M fine in GMO-labeling case

Big grocers funneled dark money into a campaign against genetically modified labels on food packaging.

Mara Wiltshire, left, celebrates her first place finish in Mario Cart against her son Miles Jenkins, 7, as Calvin Jenkins, 5, looking on Friday evening at their home in Everett, Washington on January 7, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Child care’s heightened burden takes parents out of workforce

One Snohomish County mom said she couldn’t return to work “because I didn’t have child care and I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

In this photo taken May 17, 2017, wine barrels are shown at a vineyard adjacent to the Walla Walla Vintners winery in Walla Walla, Wash. The remote southeastern Washington town of Walla Walla - which used to be best known for sweet onions and as home of the state penitentiary - has now reinvented itself into a center of premium wines and wine tourism. (AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios)
More sustainable Washington wines are on the way

Labels will indicate grape growers met guidelines in 9 areas, including water, pest and labor practices.

A sign bearing the corporate logo hangs in the window of a Starbucks open only to take-away customers in this photograph taken Monday, April 26, 2021, in southeast Denver.  Starbucks is no longer requiring its U.S. workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, reversing a policy it announced earlier this month. The Seattle coffee giant says, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022,  it's responding to last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.  (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Starbucks nixes vaccine mandate after Supreme Court ruling

The move reverses a policy the coffee company announced earlier this month.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Stanwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Regulators OK doubling of composting operation in Stanwood

Lenz Enterprises can now handle 150,000 tons a year. Residents worry odors will be a problem.

Christian Sayre
Everett bar owner arrested again on new sexual assault charges

Christian Sayre, longtime owner of The Anchor Pub, was charged Friday with 10 counts of felony sex offenses.

FILE - Bill Gates speaks during the Global Investment Summit at the Science Museum, London, Tuesday, Oct, 19, 2021. A small city in the top U.S. coal-mining state of Wyoming will be home to a Bill Gates-backed experimental nuclear power project near a coal-fired power plant that will soon close, officials announced Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. (Leon Neal/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Microsoft to review workplace harassment, including Bill Gates allegations

One engineer wrote in a letter that she had a sexual relationship with Gates over several years.

Snohomish roofing company fined another $425K for safety violations

Allways Roofing has had at least seven serious injuries on its job sites, according to the state.

ZeroAvia will collaborate with Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines, to produce a hydrogen-electric powertrain capable of flying 76-seat regional De Havilland Q400 aircraft in excess of 500 nautical miles. (Alaska Airlines)
Hydrogen-powered aircraft company ZeroAvia coming to Everett

It adds to Snohomish County’s growing repertoire of firms focused on flight without petroleum.

Jack Ng, owner of China City, at his restaurant in Mill Creek on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Businesses and nonprofits plan to push through COVID in 2022

“You can’t just wait until the fog clears,” says one business owner. Here’s what he and others are planning.