Boeing hedges on NMA/797 PaxEx

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Boeing continues the process of firming up its next-generation middle-market aircraft, which it has been calling the NMA, an acronym where the N and A stand for “new airplane” and the M has been quoted to stand for “market”, “midsize”, “middle-of-the-market”, among others. The twin-aisle aircraft is to compete with the Airbus A321neo in the capacity and performance spaces between today’s narrowbody and widebody aircraft, and is expected to resemble Boeing’s 767 in size, if not capabilities.

At the Farnborough Air Show, Runway Girl Network asked to speak with Boeing executives about their plans for the passenger experience side of the NMA. Boeing declined, with a media representative consulting the company’s commercial airliner representatives and telling us outright to “come back in four years”.

Nevertheless, we persisted.

Following the show wrapup media conference, RGN pressed Boeing vice president of commercial sales & marketing Ihssane Mounir for answers about the airframer’s PaxEx plans.

“We’re optimising the fuselage for passenger comfort, is what we’re doing,” Mounir said. “That was my comment about the A321, being in it for eight hours.”

Mounir had suggested passengers would not want to spend longhaul flights in a narrowbody aircraft, in a sort of sideways shot at Airbus’ remarkably successful A321neo, including the A321LR and a much-rumoured capability-boosted stretch, purportedly the A321XLR. The airlines producing impressive passenger experience products in narrowbodies — JetBlue, for example, or all-Boeing customer flydubai — might show demonstrated evidence to the contrary.

When pressed on the NMA’s passenger experience, Mounir conceded that “we’re talking about a twin-aisle airplane. The whole premise of the NMA is twin-aisle comfort with the economics of a single aisle. That’s the premise.”

Yet Boeing’s track record in twin-aisle comfort is poor in the last four decades since the 767, which the NMA is expected to resemble in capacity. The vast majority of 787 and 777 operators use the narrower nine- and ten-abreast configurations, respectively, which receive notably poor reviews from passengers. Some of the savviest travelers are actively booking away from these types when flying economy.

RGN put the point about widebody comfort and the nine-abreast Dreamliner to Mounir, who said, “that’s different. You’ve got to think about the capability that comes through the 787. The capability that people wanted in the 787 was two things: one is passenger comfort, the capacity, the economics of the seats, but they also wanted the range. When you do the range, and you have a lot of structure into the airplane because of the range, because you need to carry a lot of fuel to fly long, that extra structure gives you the ability to go for cargo as well.”

With passenger comfort seemingly only a priority on the fewer than 40 Japan Airlines 787s offering the 2-4-2 layout, across the entire fleet of nearly 700 Dreamliners already produced, this wish does not seem to have been fulfilled.

“The NMA promise is for either long and thin or highly dense markets,” Mounir said. “In the highly dense markets, what they care about is passenger economics. That market is being addressed by A330s today, and old 767s, and old 757s.”

Boeing’s NMA is expected to resemble its 767, and is likely to sit around the size of this 767-200, the smallest version of the 767 family. Image: John Walton

The 787’s largest customer, All Nippon Airways, also operates the 787 internally within Japan, in the nine-abreast version, but it is notable that the other widebodies Mounir mentioned offer markedly wider seats in their standard and most widely used configurations than Boeing’s current range of airliner products.

The Dreamliner, Mounir said, is “sub-optimised for — what you’re doing is carrying the structure that allows you to do seventeen hours. That’s the premise,” Mounir said.

Yet this argument stands in direct contrast to the Dreamliner’s recent win over Airbus’ A330neo in Hawaiian Airlines’ fleet replacement exercise, which seem set to primarily serve mid-haul routes between Hawai’i and the US west coast. Indeed, Mounir was wearing a Hawaiian shirt in celebration of the win’s formal announcement at Farnborough on the final day of the airshow.

Further, the Dreamliner’s operation on medium-haul routes by a number of airlines like Singapore Airlines’ Scoot’s high-density Asia-Pacific regional network suggests further incongruities with Mounir’s argument.

Singapore Airlines’ low-cost subsidiary Scoot operates a regional network of 787s. Image: John Walton

Pressed further for details of the NMA, Mounir said “We’re looking at optimising the cross-section, giving you the best cross-section for passenger comfort, while not carrying more structure than you need.”

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RGN asked Mounir if Boeing was planning to give airlines the choice to add one extra seat on the cross section, like the 787 — a choice which almost all operators made.

“We’re looking at — we’re talking to customers. Nothing is firm. We’re going through iterations; we don’t know yet how it’s going to end up.”

From the viewpoint of the passenger experience, it is disappointing that Boeing at this current stage of development has failed to set #PaxEx red lines, or make any acknowledgement of just how uncomfortable the 787 is in its nine-abreast configuration.

Given Boeing’s previous form in creating airliners that talk a passenger comfort marketing talk but do not walk the airline economics reality walk, flyers might have hoped for at least some demonstrated understanding of the problem or positive statements for the future.

To say the nine-abreast 787 economy passenger experience does not meet with universal acclaim would be an understatement. Image – John Walton

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11 Comments

  1. Howard M

    Yes, agree 100% with Barbara!

    An excellent article – spot on!

    Calling out Boeing for saying one thing about keeping passenger comfort in mind, while doing another thing like “fudging” the equation to give airlines the “option” of cramming an extra, and waaayyyy too small/narrow seat per row for long haul flights (that neither Boeing’s senior executives or most managers at any level at any airline ever have to sit in themselves – rrrrrriiiiiigggghhhhttt Dougie P?!?!) is exactly what needed to be done as Boeing moves forward towards launching its “797” NMA.

    I have flown Boeing’s “Nightmareliners” three times – and if one is stuck in economy, with those too small seats, jammed into 31” pitch rows, it ain’t pretty, and certainly is as far from living the dream as one can get for five to 15 (or more) hours.

    And on overnight, red eye, long haul flights, just try walking through the aisles without bumping into half, or more, of the passengers on either side of the aisle, all while risking tripping and falling over the many outstreteched legs, feet, arms, hands, elbows from passengers desperate to find some semblance of “comfort” in a plane where, if one is of an average sized adult or taller/larger, and they’re in a nine abreast Economy section, comfort is NOT likely to be found at all.

    Except for Japan Airlines’ Unicorn eight abreast Economy 787s, or of course in any premium cabin, the “dream” in Boeing’s “Dreamliner” is a complete mirage, and for most, instead, is more likely to be an unpleasant and uncomfortable nightmare if they’re not among the fortunate few seated in the premium cabins.

  2. You have made well the case, that the number 1 priority for Airplane makers goes to its first-tier customers rather than the second tier passenger. Airlines would rather manage customer counts feeding its profit engine rather than manage its space counts feeding its passengers.

  3. keesje

    For Boeing and 787 it is very hard to admit the fuselage is too narrow to seat 9 passengers in a row comfortably. Because there is no way back & no solution. Denial, diversion, generalization and outsourcing of responsibility is the way forward. The guys that responsible are travelling in the front cabin, keeping quiet..

  4. StudiodeKadent

    “Further, the Dreamliner’s operation on medium-haul routes by a number of airlines like Singapore Airlines’ Scoot’s high-density Asia-Pacific regional network suggests further incongruities with Mounir’s argument.”

    Not necessarily. Scoot uses very high-capacity configurations, which increases the plane’s weight and reduces the range.

    Basically, a 787 in an LCC configuration will probably have real-world performance closer to a last-gen A330.

    The 797/MoM is meant for thin mid-haul in a full-service-carrier configuration, or thick short-to-mid-haul in an LCC configuration. The 787 does mid-to-somewhat-longish in an LCC configuration or long-to-ultra-longhaul in a full-service configuration.

  5. E. T. Smith

    Agree and disagree. The final decision on configuration is with the airline. They’re the ones that want the higher capacity in economy. They have the option to go with one less seat across. Boeing is just giving them what they asked for. As for Boeing, they could definitely work on noise insulation.

  6. dwight looi

    Why spend the money and run the risks of a “New” Medium Aircraft? If the idea is to go with a 767 type cross section, Boeing already has a fuselage ready to go which is VERY LIGHT, already in production and has most teething issues resolved. It’s called the 787. Just shorten the 787-8 to 200 passengers in 2 class and re-wing it with a short span wing, 45,000 lbs engines and enough fuel for 4,000nm~5,000nm instead of 7,300 nm. In other words, a tweaked and shortened 787-3. Call it the Boeing 787-NRW (New Regional Wing).

  7. Dwight Looi

    REALITY CHECK: Boeing may want a twin aisle for better boarding and cabin space. Passengers may want wider seats and a better flying experience. But passengers don;t buy planes; airlines do. And airlines simply want the lowest seat-mile costs and range with a 737 stretch does not offer. My advise to Boeing is to KEEP IT SIMPLE.

    Make it a carbon fiber aircraft that is exactly the 757-200 in capacity, make it single aisle, keep it under 50 tons OEW and give it a range of 5,000 nm on 40,000~45,000 lbs engines. Forget the 757-300 size for now, you sold only 55 B753s to 913 B752s forget it for now. Share the 787 cockpit, windows, brakes, gear, avionics and as much other stuff as you can. Basically make this a single aisle 787 very much like the 757 was the single aisle 767.

  8. Checklist

    John Walton seems a bit too sensitive about the 17.2 “seat width of the Dreamliner.You also think that 18” seat width really gives you a difference.

    Are you serious?

    Currently you have purple hair colors do you believe that there would be a fundamental difference if you colored them in pink? Of course not.

    So why would passengers make up for 0.8 “difference in seat width? You exploit Airbus’ awareness campaign …

  9. Checklist

    Howard M said,

    “I have flown Boeing’s “Nightmareliners” three times – and if one is stuck in economy, with those too small seats, jammed into 31” pitch rows, it ain’t pretty, and certainly is as far from living the dream as one can get for five to 15 (or more) hours.”

    I really doubt it! … And could you tell me which airlines fly 15 hours with 31 “pitch / row ??

    I am happy to see Airbus fanboy crying over the indefeasible and eternal success of Boeing in the body wide against Airbus makes you sick .

    And not the A350-1000 did not sell as well as the 1,100 777-300ER and 777-X games changing.The A340 and A380 were not vanged and the 787 Dreamliner is the new star of Boeing !

    Time seems very long for you … 😉