Boeing’s Future Small Aircraft — No, Not That one

So this guy on YouTube says that Boeing has an opportunity to “leapfrog” the competition, or the market, or a river in Hell perhaps, by pulling the “Future Small Aircraft” from the longer-term future to the shorter-term.

I say no way.  Now maybe there’s a case, but so far I don’t see it.  Here’s the video, and then I explain my thinking.

Boeing skipping NMA and going straight to FSA would hardly be “leapfrogging” anything. Look, I love Boeing, and I have all my life — RAH RAH RAH. AirBus sucks and their miserable man-machine interface design philosophy has been killing people for a very long time. Boeing is new to this whole automation-killing-passengers game. SO believe me when I say I’m a Boeing man through and through.

That said, regardless of the details of MCAS, Boeing has hiked way out on surprisingly bad decisions, and now they are getting levered out of their own position as those iffy bets fail together. Delay NMA for 737-class program? Check. Re-vamp 737 instead of a new build? Check. Try to squeeze new behavior under the old type cert? Check. Now it’s too late to build the NMA, where AirBus is going to make a LOT of money that could have been Boeing’s. The FSA is the problem that the 737 Max was supposed to solve. Now the 737 Max has eaten all of the R&D time and has a monopoly on Boeing small production, which is going cold because every Max in the world is parked. Before this is all over, watch Boeing offer buy-two-get-one-free just to clear out the grid-locked parking lots of 737 Maxes just getting old in the sun and the rain. With zero miles, these planes will be the opposite of a bargain — “New, but like Used”.

Now that 737 Max is a fact on the ground (so to speak), if Boeing builds the FSA, it will mean that every dollar spent building the Max was a waste of money and time. If they are seriously floating the FSA, it means the Max is doomed, either altogether, or doomed to be sold new at used prices just to retain the workforce until they can start building something that they can charge real money for. Either way, there’s no “leapfrogging” for Boeing from the horrific strategic position that they are in anywhere from the 767 down.

Frankly, the 767 redux is a better bet than the FSA, even with crippled efficiency. Unlike the 757, the 767 has benefitted from continuing improvements to the product, as it is still being made, although for niche applications. A Boeing FSA would compete primarily against the 737, making the Max an expensive redundancy. Unless Boeing is prepared to scrap not just the Max program, but the existing Max airframes, FSA is bad business for Boeing.

Here’s what I always thought Boeing should have done with the 737 Max, once it became apparent that the existing gear was too short to fit bigger engines in the proper location:

IMHO, this would have been simpler than the ridiculous crutch and bra-strap arrangement that they settled on for the -10, and it would have obviated the need for the engine placement “solution” and its apparently unacceptable effect on the dynamic center of pressure at high angles of attack.  You just build taller gear and fold it back like Buffalo Bill.

Or they could just take my EARLIER idea, and build another 727.

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21 thoughts on “Boeing’s Future Small Aircraft — No, Not That one”

  1. Hubby has 40 years at Boeing.

    In my very humble opinion, I think that the future of aviation is Cargo.  I think someone should design a purpose-built freighter, not a variation on a passenger aircraft.  Do really good market research and determine what a fast, safe, freighter should do, then make one.

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  2. RB49:
    Hubby has 40 years at Boeing.

    In my very humble opinion, I think that the future of aviation is Cargo.  I think someone should design a purpose-built freighter, not a variation on a passenger aircraft.  Do really good market research and determine what a fast, safe, freighter should do, then make one.

    Already been done. C – 17. My guess is used re purposed airliners are cheaper than a new C -17

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  3. I think that the disparity is not so large.  Heaven knows, people fly like cargo these days, and cargo itself still needs to be pressurized.  Airliners have been built with an eye on cargo since before jets anyway — an aircraft type is a platform which can be utilized in different ways.

    A plane like the C-17 is of course overkill not because it can carry a tank — a 747 can carry a tank (a small one, sure, but a 747 can physically lift several armored vehicles).  The C-17 is overkill because it is also designed to operate from rude airfields and survive attacks from rude people.  And even new airliners would be cheaper than a used C-17 if you could buy one, which you cannot.

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  4. RB49:
    Hubby has 40 years at Boeing.

    In my very humble opinion, I think that the future of aviation is Cargo.  I think someone should design a purpose-built freighter, not a variation on a passenger aircraft.  Do really good market research and determine what a fast, safe, freighter should do, then make one.

    RB49:
    Hubby has 40 years at Boeing.

    In my very humble opinion, I think that the future of aviation is Cargo.  I think someone should design a purpose-built freighter, not a variation on a passenger aircraft.  Do really good market research and determine what a fast, safe, freighter should do, then make one.

    Why is a new freighter needed? I wonder if a relatively slow turboprop would be better than a jet.

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  5. Boeing’s plans in the small airliner market may be affected by their acquisition of 80% of Brazilian airframer Embraer’s commercial airliner business.  The deal, which has already been accepted by Embraer shareholders, is expected to be approved by antitrust regulators in March 2020.  The venture will be renamed “Boeing Brasil-Commercial” and will initially market the existing Embraer E-Jet regional airliners, which have capacities of 66 to 124 passengers.

    This is Boeing’s response to Airbus’s acquisition of the Bombardier C Series, which is now marketed as the Airbus A220 regional jet.

    If Boeing decides on a clean sheet design to replace the 737, it’s conceivable they may opt to scale up the E-Jet E2, which is a thoroughly modern design (first flight in 2016, entry into service in 2018).  The E195-E2, which has been certified and is currently entering service, can be configured for between 136 and 145 passengers, and is claimed to have a trip cost 22% lower than the A320neo and 24% lower than the 737-8 (MAX).

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  6. John Walker:
    If Boeing decides on a clean sheet design to replace the 737, it’s conceivable they may opt to scale up the E-Jet E2

    So they should widen the fuselage to give it six across seating. put on bigger engines, but keep the same controls, etc. And to have certification commonality with the E2 they should have some form of maneuvering characteristics augmentation system.

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  7. ctlaw:
    https://aviationweek.com/aerospace/boeing-hints-new-direction-nma-refocus

    From that article:

    “We are learning what the (A321) XLR is doing, or not. That also gives you a good idea of what the market may want,” Boeing Commercial Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing Ihssane Mounir, told Aviation Week during the Singapore Airshow.

    Kind of like AirBus deciding to build a jumbo-clone, rather than innovate.   If Boeing wants to follow the market around hat in hand, they shouldn’t be surprised when all they get are scraps.

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  8. ctlaw:
    https://aviationweek.com/aerospace/boeing-hints-new-direction-nma-refocus

    That’s an interesting article.  It really looks like Boeing is scrambling.  There’s an opinion piece on p. 10 of the February 10 print edition of Aviation Week which lays out the extent to which they’re getting killed by the A321neo.  It notes, “Last year there were just 673 net orders for all Airbus and Boeing jets; 476 of these were for the A321neo.”  The author further notes that the A321 could be stretched further, which would bite into the 787’s market.  The conclusion is,

    If Boeing does not build a clean-sheet midmarket airplane, it will lose at least 15% and perhaps 20% of the market.  What was a 50/50 duopoly will become a 65/35 duopoly, or perhaps even a 70/30 one.  In an industry that is heavily dependent on volume to achieve the lower costs that airline customers demand, such a market-share decline would be tough to recover from.

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  9. Haakon Dahl:
    Kind of like AirBus deciding to build a jumbo-clone, rather than innovate.   If Boeing wants to follow the market around hat in hand, they shouldn’t be surprised when all they get are scraps.

    The key would be to leapfrog in technology/efficiency. It would have to be a composite aircraft rather than a traditional aluminum one.

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  10. Also from the article linked by ctlaw:

    “The beauty of it is we haven’t launched anything so you can always refine the concept and figure out what the right aircraft is for the marketplace,” says Mounir. “The product development team will redirect their efforts to look at a fresh concept and internalize all we have learned through the exercises we have had with customers, but I can tell you we are not flogging anything that we are discussing with customers right now.”

    Translation: Right now we are out of the airplane-designing business.  Suggestions welcome.

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  11. Finally:

    The move, if confirmed, also raises questions about Boeing’s longer-term replacement strategy for the 737 MAX and how this might be influenced by the development of a new aircraft sized to compete more directly with the A321XLR. As Boeing conventionally develops families of aircraft, a downward shift in size for any new 757 successor aircraft could also potentially entail the development of a smaller stablemate that would encroach on the upper end of the current 737 range.

    Mounir also scotches speculation that Boeing could dust-off its long-abandoned 787-3 derivative as a potential replacement for the larger NMA market sector. “The key to the NMA is the production system – and the production system around the 787 produces true long haul capability with a certain rate and a certain yield. You have got to be able to match yield to pricing, so if a 787-3 is produced within the same system I just don’t see how you could do that within the same production system from a yield standpoint.”

    In the first paragraph, they worry about a FSA (Future Small Aircraft) cannibalizing 737 Max sales, which I pointed out was a problem in my OP, above.  In the second paragraph they worry that a smaller 787-3 (NMA-sized) would be more expensive to produce than a large FSA.

    Here’s how to figure that out: A new FSA targeting the current and likely Airbus offerings (and the Max!) will not generate the hull count needed to achieve a robust economy of scale — sure, they can sell a thousand airplanes just by announcing, but it will be in lower numbers per year than would make the production as cheap as they want.  What will they stop building without expanding the size of the market itself, while losing share to Airbus?   Mounir’s stated goal of catching crumbs from the A321 zone is not at all building new markets, which is traditionally a Boeing strength.

    Meanwhile, the 787 production system is still cranking at full speed, and in a market segment that it (still) dominates — it has already achieved what economies it may.  Couple this with the urgent need (IMHO) for Boeing to implement the standard engine interface due to ongoing engine issues (not Boeing’s fault) with the lead supplier, Rolls-Royce, and you get the 787-3 program as a great way to bundle the new engine components into a new product line and have it be largely backward-compatible with the massive existing fleets of 787s already flying (or waiting to fly because Trent engines SUCK).

    I just don’t see how the 787-3 is a production loser to an aircraft they can’t even name yet.  Boeing needs some wins that don’t rely upon a rosy future extending infinitely into the unknown, because right now, the one thing Boeing has in short supply is future.

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  12. Haakon Dahl:
    I just don’t see how the 787-3 is a production loser to an aircraft they can’t even name yet.

    There are standards on what aircraft sizes (by wingspan) can use what airports. The A320/321 and 737 are in a class up to 36m. A 787-3 with such short wings would have a big range deficit.

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  13. ctlaw:

    Haakon Dahl:
    I just don’t see how the 787-3 is a production loser to an aircraft they can’t even name yet.

    There are standards on what aircraft sizes (by wingspan) can use what airports. The A320/321 and 737 are in a class up to 36m. A 787-3 with such short wings would have a big range deficit.

    Great point, and I hadn’t thought of that.  Boeing does already have an approved folding tip for the 777.  They know the code, so to speak.

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  14. John Walker:
    Boeing’s plans in the small airliner market may be affected by their acquisition of 80% of Brazilian airframer Embraer’s commercial airliner business.  The deal, which has already been accepted by Embraer shareholders, is expected to be approved by antitrust regulators in March 2020.  The venture will be renamed “Boeing Brasil-Commercial” and will initially market the existing Embraer E-Jet regional airliners, which have capacities of 66 to 124 passengers.

    This is Boeing’s response to Airbus’s acquisition of the Bombardier C Series, which is now marketed as the Airbus A220 regional jet.

    If Boeing decides on a clean sheet design to replace the 737, it’s conceivable they may opt to scale up the E-Jet E2, which is a thoroughly modern design (first flight in 2016, entry into service in 2018).  The E195-E2, which has been certified and is currently entering service, can be configured for between 136 and 145 passengers, and is claimed to have a trip cost 22% lower than the A320neo and 24% lower than the 737-8 (MAX).

    This would dovetail nicely with a 787-3 strategy.  This large regional jet would need a fancy acronym not involving the word “regional,” of course.  If they’re going to cannibalize the Max, they should do so quickly and with a proven design family.

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  15. Haakon Dahl:

    ctlaw:

    Haakon Dahl:
    I just don’t see how the 787-3 is a production loser to an aircraft they can’t even name yet.

    There are standards on what aircraft sizes (by wingspan) can use what airports. The A320/321 and 737 are in a class up to 36m. A 787-3 with such short wings would have a big range deficit.

    Great point, and I hadn’t thought of that.  Boeing does already have an approved folding tip for the 777.  They know the code, so to speak.

    777 folding wingtip saves 3.5m per side.

    787 wingspan is 60.12 m. You are going to lose 8.5m per side with a 36m folded span.

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  16. ctlaw:

    Haakon Dahl:

    ctlaw:

    Haakon Dahl:
    I just don’t see how the 787-3 is a production loser to an aircraft they can’t even name yet.

    There are standards on what aircraft sizes (by wingspan) can use what airports. The A320/321 and 737 are in a class up to 36m. A 787-3 with such short wings would have a big range deficit.

    Great point, and I hadn’t thought of that.  Boeing does already have an approved folding tip for the 777.  They know the code, so to speak.

    777 folding wingtip saves 3.5m per side.

    787 wingspan is 60.12 m. You are going to lose 8.5m per side with a 36m folded span.

    The 787-3 would be aimed at the 757 market, not necessarily the A32x (or not the [edit: BOTTOM] end of it).  Also, a smaller 787 should be able to sport smaller wings organically, even before any fancy tricks, etc.  A compromise would be required between wing tanks and the length to fold.  This Grumman system is still in use for folding more than just the tips.  I don;t know if the Hawkeye has tanks outboard of the fold — I presume not.  But the fold doesn’t have to happen just outboard of the engines — we only have to fold enough to get it into the next lower size category.

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