Boeing's concept of an all-new “middle of the market” airplane drew some measured analysis at the Paris Air Show, and a scathing reaction from Airbus sales chief John Leahy.
Several industry players reacted cautiously Monday to Boeing sales chief John Wojick’s declaration that the jetmaker will look closely at developing an all-new “middle of the market” airplane for entry into service around 2025.
Wojick’s counterpart at Airbus, however, was predictably scathing.
“In 2015, I wouldn’t worry about what Boeing is doing in 2025,” said Airbus sales chief John Leahy in an interview. “I’m not overly concerned about Boeing’s paper airplane. The aviation publications are littered with Boeing paper tigers.”
For this market — more or less replacing the out-of-production Boeing 757 that’s still flown on many transAtlanic routes and fits somewhere between the current single-aisle and twin-aisle jets — Leahy is championing the Airbus A321LR, a long-range variant of the A321neo. “I know the airplane that’s keeping (Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO) Ray Conner awake at night. It’s called the A321LR.”
Leahy said Boeing is contemplating an all-new plane, which he said might cost up to $10 billion, only “because they don’t have anything to compete with the A321LR.”
GE Aviation David Joyce said that if Boeing goes ahead with its “middle of the market” jet concept, it will need a brand new engine in the 40,000 to 50,000 pounds of thrust range.
But in an interview Monday at the Air Show, Joyce said his company has far too much else on its plate in the next five years to think much yet about 2025. Along with Safran of France, GE is developing the LEAP engine for the new generation of single aisle jets. And on its own, it’s developing also the Passport engine for large business jets and the GE-9x for Boeing’s 777X.
Current plans call for a massive ramp up that would see eight LEAP engines a day being produced soon after 2020, from zero today. In other words, GE must focus heavily on the manufacturing side before designing yet another new engine.
“We’re working on some technologies (for future engines) … but my primary focus is just executing and delivering what we’re already committed to,” he said.
Jeff Knittel, president of airplane lessor CIT, said there’s “a valuable market in the future” for an airplane of the type Boeing is proposing.
He said Airbus’s gradual development of the A321 — first adding winglets, then new engines, then extra fuel tanks — “creates an opportunity in terms of range improvement that maybe is not there on the 737(-900ER),” the Boeing jet nearest in size.
Knittel said the Airbus A321LR “serves 80 to 85 percent of the current idea of the middle of the market.”
Boeing’s latest iteration of that middle-market airplane, the 737 MAX 9, “has not yet seen the same activity levels” as the A321neo, he said. In fact, the Airbus jet has so far outsold the MAX 9 by a factor of 4 to 1.
Toby Bright, the former head of Boeing sales, now chief executive of San Francisco-based airplane lessor Jackson Square Aviation, said he thinks Boeing’s proposal is serious, not just a head fake to block sales of the A321LR.
“Boeing wouldn’t be out talking about it unless they saw a real market,” said Bright. “There were times when both manufacturers have talked up a product as a competitive blocking strategy. But in this case, I don’t see the fact that Boeing is out there talking about this stopping anyone from ordering A321s right now.”
And the contrasting view Bright’s leasing company takes of the current 737-900ER compared to the current A321 offers insight into why Boeing may see the need for a new plane.
Although Jackson Square Aviation, backed by Japanese financing, “will buy every 737-800 we can buy,” Bright is steering clear of 737-900ERs.
“There’s some concern that the airline customer base for the 737-900 ER is too small, so we are not buying -900ERs,” said Bright. “We are buying A321s instead.”