When Boeing launches its next model, the 797, at next year’s Paris Air Show, a leading analyst predicts the manufacturer’s stock will get a big boost if the aircraft lives up to expectations.
The twin-aisle 240-270 seat mid-market airplane, or Boeing 797 as it is widely known, is the most anticipated plane design since the company’s 787, which is itself the fastest selling wide-body plane in history.
Analyst Edward Ambrose, of Seeking Alpha, said in a report this week that Boeing’s stock would soar on the announcement of the go-ahead and specifications of the plane.
People close to the secretive project say the 797 “looks awesome”. It might look like any other plane at an airport, but it’s the plane’s weight and what is inside that will be the secret to its success.
Unlike its bigger sibling the 787, the 240-270 seat 797 is not designed to fly from Perth to London nonstop but rather fly just over 10 hours — or Perth to Dubai non-stop.
That mission design change reduces its structural weight significantly.
With a range of just over 10 hours, the 797 would connect Perth with every city in Asia and India — the world’s biggest and fastest-growing travel markets.
Flights such as Perth to Hanoi would become viable.
Currently airlines can choose from single-aisle 180-230 seat 737s or A320s that can fly about seven hours or the much bigger 300-plus seat A330s and 787s that operate in longer-range environments.
The 797 fills the gap. For the passenger the 797 will be a dream and that is what airlines are counting on.
The cross-section of the plane will accommodate 2-3-2 seats in economy, 2-2-2 in premium economy and 1-2-1 in business.
Most passengers will have an aisle or window seat.
A big bonus will be the overhead baggage space per passenger, which will be the most offered on a plane. The 797 will be a made of composite material like the 787 and it will be able economically to connect hundreds of new non-stop routes between smaller cities.
This year Boeing moved one of its top engineers, Terry Beezhold, to the program.
Mr Beezhold has had lead roles in the 787 and was project engineer on the ultra-long-range 777X, which will roll out in February.
In June, Boeing defined two 797 versions — the 228-passenger, 8300km-range NMA-6 (797-6), and the NMA-7 (797-7) which would seat 267 in two classes with 8000km range.
The 797-6 would be launched first, followed by the bigger 797-7.
Entry into service is put at 2025, dependent on the development of all-new engines with a goal of a 20 per cent reduction in fuel burn.
Boeing puts the market about 5000 planes over 20 years and worth more than $US1 trillion.
It sees the 797 as a stimulus creating thousands of new routes and thus new business.
It says there are 30,000 city pairs not linked that would be perfect routes for the 797.
A key factor in building the 797 is a new production process, Jon Ostrower of Theaircurrent.com, said.
The new system code named Black Diamond “weaves a digital layer to the entire airplane manufacturing ecosystem” to radically reduce the cost of building the 797.
“From design conception and testing to manufacturing and revenue service, every layer is woven together by a digital thread,” Mr Ostrower said.
But the 797 idea is not new.
Boeing and its legacy company, McDonnell Douglas, touted a similar-sized plane — 7J7 and DC-11 — as early as 1980.
However, at the time plane seating was more spacious, passengers’ carry-on was not a problem and airlines couldn’t make the business case.
These days, passenger seating is cramped and the demand for overhead space is almost out of control.
Responding to the big squeeze, airline chiefs and presidents around the world have expressed huge interest in the 797.
Boeing has been talking to 60 airlines to define the final configuration of the 797 and have reached an agreement, insiders say. Qantas chief Alan Joyce is bullish on the 797.
Earlier this year he said that the 797 is “a lighter plane than the A330 and it has the range that’s designed to fly transcontinental and South-East Asia so it’s not too heavy for the domestic operations”.
Lead airline for the 797 is US giant Delta Air Lines, which has wanted this type of plane for 38 years.
Delta boss Ed Bastian said he wants to be the first to fly the 797. “I hope that we’re going to be a launch customer on that program,” he told staff recently.
When in 1980, McDonnell Douglas — now part of Boeing — proposed an almost identical plane the DC-11, it extraordinarily declined a launch order from Delta for 60, because its executives got cold feet on the development costs.
Delta’s Robert Oppenlander summed up the situation in the December 1, 1980 edition of Business Week: “They (MDC) wanted to launch a new plane without taking any risk. That ain’t the way it works.”
So Delta ordered the 190 to 240 seat 757. The 797 is designed in part to replace the 757.