With Boeing’s previous project, the 787 Dreamliner, being both technologically revolutionary and commercially successful, many people who take an interest in the aviation business were interested in where Boeing would go next. Would they focus on updating their existing designs (they seemed to head this way for a while with the 777X and the 737MAX), or would they do something revolutionary, building an entirely new aircraft?
One of Boeing’s most pressing problems, it seems, is building a replacement for the 757. Production was shut down as a result of the post-9/11 aviation downturn, and, since then, many airlines have been putting off retiring their 757’s because there’s nothing that can replace it in terms of shear versatility. The 757 can operate busy domestic routes, thinner international ones, and has the range and toughness to do it all. While Airbus was hoping to corner the mid-sized aircraft market with its A321CEO/NEO and the A321LR designs, it seemed as if Boeing as simply trying to push the 737 as a replacement for everything. Boeing’s attempts to convince airlines to buy the latest 737 models, the 737MAX, to replace their 757’s was kind of like a car company trying to sell an outsized sedan to Greyhound: it just doesn’t fit what it’s supposed to do.
Airlines didn’t like the 737 solution for everything. It was clear that the 737 just simply couldn’t do all the things the 757 (and, to an extent, the 767) could without significant design changes, and it further became apparent that a clean sheet design was the best way to approach the challenge of a 757 replacement. However, Boeing did not even begin to look into this in enough seriousness until recently, and it began shopping around its concept for a new middle-of-the-market (MOM) aircraft last year, with very positive feedback from the airlines it was presented to. The new concept was immediately dubbed by avgeeks and the media alike the 797, because 767 Lite or 757 Part Deux don’t have quite as good a ring to them.
While it seemed to be getting more and more likely that this 797 would be happening, Boeing had not released any details of the project, leaving us with a lot of questions. Would it be a narrow- or wide-body? How similar would it be to the 787? Would it be a flying blob?
We got some answers at the Paris Air Show this week. During a presentation to various attendees, Boeing gave us a sneak peek at the new plane, including a rendering and a potential timeline for its development. Below is a screenshot from the 797 presentation (courtesy of CNN) showing the new aircraft (middle) compared to the 787 (top) and 737MAX (bottom):
Numerous reports have stated that the 797 would be a smaller twin-aisle aircraft, somewhat like a small 767. This was confirmed in the presentation, along with various other details: per Boeing’s Vice President of Airplane Development Michael Delaney, the 797’s wings and fuselage would be mostly built out of carbon fiber composites, similar to the 787. As the rendering above shows, the 797 looks a lot more similar to the 787 than the 737, with its raked winglets and elegant, sweeping curves. Based on the rendering above (which isn’t much, to say the least) this 797 sure looks good, as its predecessor, the 757, did as well.
In the presentation, Boeing also gave us a timeline for the development of the new aircraft. Beginning now, should they decide to go ahead with the project, Boeing will begin to develop general specs for the aircraft, followed by an official product launch and further design development. By the early 2020’s, production of test aircraft will begin, followed by flight testing, and, finally, an entrance into commercial service around 2025.
This is a hugely exciting development in the commercial aviation market. The 757 is a great airplane, and it seems it finally is getting the replacement it deserves, given the important market segment it fills (busy shorthaul routes and thinner longhaul ones). I really hope Boeing goes ahead with the project, and can’t wait to see the impact it has on the aviation market.