Boeing is moving forward with a study of an all-new "Middle of the Market" jet that would enter service in the middle of the next decade.
PARIS — Boeing is moving forward with a study of an all-new commercial jet that would enter service in the middle of the next decade, sales chief John Wojick said in an interview ahead of the Paris Air Show.
In the past year, Wojick’s sales team has had detailed discussions with airline customers and has determined that the market is big enough to potentially go forward with a multibillion-dollar investment to build the first all-new jet since the 787 Dreamliner, launched in 2003.
A final decision on launching such a jet remains far off, likely not before 2019. But Boeing’s determination that there is a market worth chasing is a necessary early step that triggers further detailed study of the business case for going ahead.
“A year ago, we weren’t convinced the market was large enough to be of that much interest,” Wojick said. “What we’ve determined over the past year is that it’s larger than we thought.”
Boeing internally refers to the proposed jet as a “Middle of the Market” airplane, because it’s intermediate in size between the 737 single-aisle family and the 787, which is Boeing’s smallest widebody.
Originally a plane that size was discussed as a replacement for the single-aisle 757, which Boeing stopped building in 2005. However, the proposal that emerged from Boeing’s market research goes well beyond that.
Wojick said Boeing is looking at a plane seating 220 to 280 passengers with a range of 4,500 to 5,000 miles.
“That’s larger than a 757 and flies farther than a 757,” Wojick said. “It’s a domestic and a regional airplane. It would be very efficient operating domestically in the U.S. or China, and regionally as well in Southeast Asia and Europe. It could fly from the East Coast of the U.S. to many destinations in Europe.”
Wojick said the jet probably couldn’t enter service before the middle of the next decade because the configuration outlined demands a higher-thrust engine than those powering today’s single-aisle jets. In addition, Boeing’s engineering and financial resources will be tied up with the 737 MAX and the 777X derivative airplanes through at least 2020.
Wojick said Mike Sinnett, vice president of product development, is leading the study of the proposed jet, along with Scott Fancher, vice president of airplane development who now leads the 777X program.
What’s ahead for them, Wojick said, is to determine the detailed configuration of an airplane that fits the identified market and also “what type of production system and materials need to be used.”
Basic questions such as whether the proposed jet should be a single-aisle or a twin-aisle, and whether it will be made largely from metal or from composite plastic are still unanswered, he said.
If Boeing finally decides to launch the airplane, the decision on the production system will of course also raise the key question of where the plane will be built.
Everett and North Charleston, S.C., are the most likely candidates for final assembly. However, Wojick said that decision is “way down the pike.”
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In the meantime, Boeing is digesting the input from the airlines. Wojick said there is interest from a diverse customer base, including carriers that today fly the 757 across the Atlantic — American, Delta, United and Icelandair — as well as low-cost carriers.
He said Southwest Airlines is potentially interested. And so is Alaska Air, which today flies Boeing’s largest 737 on long-distance routes to the East Coast and Mexico.
“Anchorage and Seattle are a long way from large population bases,” Wojick said. “We’ll see how far they want to go.”