Airlines that once poo-pooed Boeing’s idea of a “middle-of-the-market,” light twin-aisle jetliner are now warming up to it, as leaders at Alaska, Delta and United made clear during last month’s ISTAT annual conference in San Diego.
The twin-aisle plane—designed to carry around 250 passengers and travel 5,200 miles—will fill a gap between the largest single-aisle 737 and the smallest twin-aisle 787 Dreamliner. As of now, the Boeing 797 only exists on paper. However, as interest for the new jet grows, insiders predict it could take to the skies as early as 2025.
Turning skeptics into believers
The 797 concept, first pitched openly by Boeing at the 2015 Paris Air Show, was originally met with criticism from many in the airline industry who favored slimmer, single-aisle jets for mid-range journeys. Now, executives like United CFO Andrew Levy have had a change of heart.
“We're convinced; we get it. We understand the economics," Levy told reporters at ISTAT. "We thought a twin made no sense, but we walked through it and had our questions answered. From what we've seen, we like it. But it's a paper airplane. Hopefully they'll launch it."
Concept and design
Smaller, cheaper and more fuel-efficient than the Dreamliner, but larger and with greater capacity than the narrow-body 737, the Boeing 797 aims to make mid-range, trans-Atlantic flights more cost effective for airlines. With more budget air carriers now offering longer flights, such as New York to Berlin, the need for a cost-efficient airliner that accommodates mid-range travel has grown.
Boeing faces tough competition in this area, however. Airbus is currently upgrading its largest narrow-body jet, the A321, and rumors suggest it may introduce an A332neo to meet the mid-range demand. If the 797 is going to beat out the competition, Boeing will need to act fast and stick to a strict budget.
According to experts, Boeing would need to price the 797 at around $70 million or $80 million in order for it to compete with upgraded A7321 and A7330 models. That’s around $30 million cheaper than the best-priced Dreamliner.
Manufacturing the twin-aisle plane for this price point, and before Airbus seals up the market, will not be an easy task. However, it’s a challenge that Boeing looks increasingly determined to take on.