Peeking into Boeing’s future airplanes

Oct. 18, 2016, © Leeham Co.: It was a rare look into potential future airplanes and passenger experience by Boeing, which is known for keeping these topics close to

Mike Sinnett, VP Product Development for Boeing. Taking 787 technologies and enhancing them for future airplanes. Photo via Google images.

Mike Sinnett, VP Product Development for Boeing. Taking 787 technologies and enhancing them for future airplanes. Photo via Google images.

its chest.

Mike Sinnett, VP of Product Development for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, last week gave an audience of nearly 250 people attending the annual Governor’s Conference organized by the Aerospace Futures Alliance, a look at some of the concepts Boeing is studying. Some may evolve into actual products and some may not, he said.

Amazing opportunity

“From a commercial airplanes perspective, it’s an amazing opportunity we face,” said Sinnett. “We believe the world will need nearly 40,000 commercial airplanes in the next 20 years.

“We try to develop airplanes that will stimulate growth, stimulate the economy and increase the amount of traffic.”

Sinnett said airplanes bring cultures together and make people-to-people connections. This is Boeing’s mission, he said.

Airbus isn’t sitting still. Bloomberg News has this story about the European OEM’s plans to improve passenger experience.

Developing a new airplane

“What happens to develop a new airplane?” Sinnett asked. “It really takes two things. The intersection of available technology and demonstrated customer need. Those two things have to intersect before you have a product.”

Sinnett said “technology is something you work on all the time.” A number of technologies came together in the 787, but he said these were important regardless of whether applied to the 787.

Improved cockpits, interfacing with other systems and engines all saw advances that would apply to any aircraft, Sinnett said.

“Any time we do a new airplane or a derivative airplane, engine technologies are always a significant piece of that,” he said.

Aerodynamics

Boeing is always working on ways to improve aerodynamics, he said.

Advanced composites and aerodynamic structures “really work hand-in-hand,” he said. “One of the reasons why the 787 is so efficient aerodynamically is because the composite technology allowed us to build very long, high aspect ratio, very thin wings that had never been built before to that level.

“To try to do that in metal would be nearly impossible,” he said.

Interiors

Sinnett said technology isn’t limited to the airplane itself, but extends to the interior with passenger experience. With the 787, improving pax-ex was a major objective.

Boeing suggests projecting images in the interior to enhance passenger experience. Fox News photo via Google images.

Boeing suggests projecting images in the interior to enhance passenger experience. Fox News photo via Google images.

There was a “specific design intent” to make the passenger experience much better than airplanes that preceded the 787.

Sinnett said Boeing created a cabin simulator to replicate flights, right down to the bad movies and food, to analyze why and how people feel after long flights.

“We studied what makes people feel how they feel,” he said.

Boeing changed cabin pressure, temperature, oxygen that was in the air and more. “We looked at qualitative and quantitative things,” Sinnett said.

The interior developed for the 787 migrated to the 737 in the form of the Boeing Sky Interior and to the 747-8, giving a similar look and feel across three airplane lines.

Sinnett said the future could include projecting images on interior surfaces to enhance the pax-ex.

New Technologies

One of several airplane concepts Boeing is studying with NASA to improve fuel efficiency and lower noise. Boeing rendering.

One of several airplane concepts Boeing is studying with NASA to improve fuel efficiency and lower noise. Boeing rendering.

Boeing continually considers how to tweak current designs to improve them in the near term. For example, does Boeing need to add what has become commonly called the MAX 10 to the family, growing the MAX 9?

“We’re talking with our customers to determine if there is a need,” Sinnett said.

The prospect of a 777X freighter is another example of expanding current technologies.

A mid-term horizon 10 years from now might see further refinements of the airplanes now in development (the MAX, 777X) or entirely new aircraft.

Boeing is working with NASA to study new airplane concepts that will be more fuel efficient and quieter than tomorrow’s airplanes.

“A great example is the middle of the market, where customers are asking for an airplane that is bigger than the 737 family but with less range capability than our current twin aisle family,” Sinnett said.

There could be a market potential for thousands of airplanes for this sector, he said.

53 Comments on “Peeking into Boeing’s future airplanes

  1. ” A number of technologies came together in the 787, but he said these were important regardless of whether applied to the 787.”

    Thats all fine but the best thing about the 777X for me is that theyre learning from their production failures at least I hope. Its good that they are getting Kuka robotics to automate some of the production. It will be a phenomenal plane Im sure. I just hope they build as much of it as possible in the US. And same for Airbus in Europe. With advanced robotics, why not build at home cheaper and more cost effective than otherwise. Production technology at A + B is tbe way forward. Make them cheaper

    • Built at home?
      I did never understand they one part of the business was never outsourced e.g. to India with a far better mathematical knowledge on average: the management.

      Btw. KUKA robots are made in Germany. Maybe a kind of illegal steel worker immigration?

  2. Improved passenger experience for me means more leg room (I am 6′ 2″). But my real bone of contention is the passenger ‘experience’ in the airport. It really has scope for improvement. I abhor the queue and shuffle, being herded about like cattle. If Boeing and Airbus want to build more air-planes they need more people to want to fly. Make the end-to-end experience akin to the air-plane experience!

    • Sadly, the simple reality is that neither OEM has much control over how their customers configure the planes they buy. They have even less control over your “airport experience”.

    • Absolutely!

      If the seating at the gate areas was numbered according to the aircraft that usually fly from it, a number of things are improved:

      1. Everyone has a seat at the gate
      2. If people are sat in their numbered seat, boarding can be optimised.

      Furthermore, these bloody terminals that are like snakes and ladders to walk through the shops should be burnt down!! Or at least offer a straight line shortcut bypassing all the crap.

      • A good example of such airport is Arlanda in Stockholm Sweden. Though fairly small they now (for the past 4-5y) make you go through somewhat annoying duty free shops just after security. No choice. Shoppers are standing in your way. When rushed one is no so happy. Was much better before. Ok,ok, we survive :-).

  3. “Sinnett said technology isn’t limited to the airplane itself, but extends to the interior with passenger experience. With the 787, improving pax-ex was a major objective.

    There was a “specific design intent” to make the passenger experience much better than airplanes that preceded the 787.

    Sinnett said Boeing created a cabin simulator to replicate flights, right down to the bad movies and food, to analyze why and how people feel after long flights.

    “We studied what makes people feel how they feel,” he said.

    So they put 8 abreast in the 787 mock-up, removed the bins put th pitch at 34 inch and presented some good food & cool movies.

    Passenger responds was very positive!

    http://airportjournals.com/wp-content/uploads/0709014_3.jpg

    Back to future:
    https://www.google.nl/search?q=trip+report+787+narrow&sourceid=ie7&rls=com.microsoft:en-US:IE-Address&ie=&oe=&gfe_rd=cr&ei=d6UAWKKrKa6N8Qey14mwDg&gws_rd=ssl#q=trip+report+787+cramped

    • Keeje:

      Now that is indeed funny, maybe unfair but funny.

      Well we maximized pax experience, then enable airlines to destroy it, win win, whoo whooo.

      Well its either design it so you can’t add a seat (and how does that affect sales) or have legislation that ensures the same thing.

      What’s it going to be people , we going to just gripe or do something about it?

    • With the 787 and A350 are in production, and the A330neo and 777x nearing, we will see what value the 18″ seat versus the 17″ seat brings to the table in terms of demand and aircraft value. Now that the ‘irrational exuberance’ of widebody sales has come to an end.
      With the Embraer line and CSeries with wider seats for short flights, I don’t see how there isn’t some 100th monkey thing where the flying public and seatguru don’t start to take notice. Of course there is always the potential for airlines to convert a zone on the 787 to 8x or the 777 to 9x and try to upsell those seats.

      • I’m waiting a ticket booking portal that automaticly avoids seats / aircraft that are not for me (narrow, pitch).

        How many days / hours would it take before Boeing / airline lawyers contacting the site sending in intimidating legal, 30 page, notifications.

        • Champagne tastes but beer budget ?
          Try the ‘craft beer range’ or as its better known , economy plus.

          • Just checked seatguru for Air Canada 777-300ER 9 abreast economy,it gives nominal seat as 18.5 in width pitch 32.
            While the Lufthana 747-8 10 abreast economy has 17.5 width, and 31 pitch.
            Small seats have been around in the 10 across 747 for 30 plus years, why now does everyone complain about the widebody twins which are wider seats.

      • Japan Airlines still runs 787’s with 8 seats across in their economy section (for Boston routes for example), although they charge a bit more than other airlines on the same route.

        Well worth it to me

        • Yep, very low density interinational configuration.

          However, look at in Japan configuration! They really pack them in.

          Works I assume due to the smaller size

  4. I really hope that the A330neo will fly “my” routes in the future. It should offer the same passenger comfort as the A340, only with larger bins. I really love the 2-4-2 seating. Even if you check in late, you will never be away from the isle more than one seat.
    All the long-haul-trips in economy I did since my last A340 flight in 777 and 747-8i felt rather uncomfortable, the seats too narrow and almost no recline. Luckily I could avoid the 787 so far.
    Premium economy is probably the minimum you have to have when you have to fly with a 787 and you are tall with long legs (6’1”) and square shoulders.
    In my opinion Boeing has made the 787 just a little too wide. Did they really believe Airlines would seat economy 8-abreast? I don’t think so. But the economics are looking really nice in 9-abreast.

    • Hi Gundolf, did you read the Bloomberg article referenced above? You will find in there a statement by Ingo Wuggetzer, from Airbus. Since you are a relatively big person (“tall with long legs (6’1”) and square shoulders”), I would like to know what you think of the following comment he made to Bloomberg:

      “For us the basic comfort element or criteria is clearly the seat and especially the seat width. So we found out that the seat width is having more impact on the comfort level of a passenger than the seat pitch. Clearly one inch in width is projecting the same effect as 1.6 inch in pitch because you can move your body easier. The main argument, what we got from passengers, is that you do not have shoulder contact with your neighbor. This is a pretty key issue that you can avoid by adding that one extra inch to 18 inches in economy.”

      • I am not that tall (5ft 8 inches these day) and I am very wide shouldered.

        I would rather have feet (pitch is a euphemism its my feet and legs that are bunched up) .

        Now maybe that’s just me, but designing to one size fits all solutions means that 49% can be left out.

        • They dont have one size fits all- thats why they have premium economy.
          Please enough of the wailing and just pay the money.
          Do the people who travel in cars complain that all the cheapest cars dont have any room or zoom or nice features ?

          • For many of us, our employers insist on the lowest available fare, so there is no premium economy option.

          • I elect to suffer, no raises in the last 5 years, pretty tough.

            Only good news is my legs recover, hate to think what it does to others.

      • Neither 17in nor 18in seat widths are satisfactory. The US Air Force did a study and determined that the average shoulder breadth (measured 20 years ago) was 19in and 95th percentile was 21in. With a 2in arm rest even the 18in seat only accommodates (may still touch) about 75%, so one in four passengers will push into anyone seated next to them.

        This means at least half of all passengers are either pushing or being pushed into, and if the larger person is in a middle seat they push into people on both sides making three quarters of all passengers on the plane uncomfortable.

        There is a reason business class seats are 21in wide and have 4-6in armrests.

        • That is why on the C Series the seat width in Y is 18.5″, and 19″ for the middle seat, while in J it is 20″. But the US Air Force data would only be valid in the USA, which represent only 4.4% of the world population.

          • @Normand

            The worlds airlines disagree with you on size applicability, offering similar minimums in first class across the globe. Perhaps they think their job is to transport people from one place to another. )

            Some first class seats are much larger, but this seems to relate more to corporate strategy and age of equipment rather than geographic boundary. Otherwise Singapore is home to a race of giants.

          • @Peter

            Perhaps I did not make it clear enough that I agree with you on seat size. When you say “there is a reason business class seats are 21in wide and have 4-6in armrests” I totally agree with you. If I gave the example of the C Series it is because it offers an exceptionally large cabin for its class, compared to the 737’s. Because it would not be possible on the 737 to offer seats as large as the ones that are standard on the C Series, because in six-abreast configuration the 737 fuselage it too narrow. We have to keep in mind that we cannot configure every aircraft in business-class only. I think the world airlines would agree with me on this. For a majority of travellers are not willing, or capable, to pay a higher price to have the privilege to sit in an appropriately sized seat. The reality is that with a small price also comes a smaller seat, regardless of the actual size of the customer. Even Singapore Airlines have started to realize this. For their business model has been challenged over the years by real life economics.

          • @Normand

            Truly, a large number of people prefer being crammed into a compression suit for a short while to save a little cash. Ryanair’s 29 inch back of the plane pitch proves that. What I wonder is how long it will take the airlines to figure out that the 50-100% fare premium for six extra inches in premium economy is too expensive and that much more pitch is not necessary.

            IIRC Ryanair gets less than $100 in total revenue per passenger. Three more inches in pitch is neutral to them at $10 and makes the sardine can tolerable. They don’t offer it as I suppose they think their customers wouldn’t buy it. At $10 I would. At $50-100 I would find another airline. Anything less than 32 leaves my knees jammed into the seat in front.

          • @Peter

            “What I wonder is how long it will take the airlines to figure out that the 50-100% fare premium for six extra inches in premium economy is too expensive and that much more pitch is not necessary.”

            Yes, it’s all or nothing: not enough pitch or more than you need. Same for the price: ultra cheap or too expensive. I like the JeBlue business model, for it appears to me as more balanced. Even after they reduced their seat pitch standard it remains acceptable for a majority of customers while the prices are still relatively low.

  5. Sinnett (Boeing): “It really takes two things. The intersection of available technology and demonstrated customer need. Those two things have to interest before you have a product.”

    – I totally agree with that principle. You can bring whatever technology to the market (moonshot), if the customer doesn’t need it, or doesn’t want it, it doesn’t make sense to implement it.

    Wuggetzer (Airbus): “So we found out that the seat width is having more impact on the comfort level of a passenger than the seat pitch.”

    – Again, I totally agree with that statement. For it reflects my own experience.

  6. Normand: Why do you equate technology with Moonshot? Its in the he same vein as the “one trick pony” thing.

    You are better than that.

    787 was not a moonshot, that was McNnenary trying to shift the blame form monumental management screw up of biblical proportions.

    So Airbus spins it their way because of the enforced seating thing but we can cram them in length wise tighter than a bunch of sardines lapped end to end?

    And my experience says foot room is the driver, so we ignore the 49% that is not you? Or is it 50% or 60% and you are 40 and its an Airbus spin that fall in place for you but no one else?

    I think we need BOTH. Are you willing to sacrifice a large percentage of you fellow pax?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    • I suggest LNC run a survey that would ask readers which one they would likely sacrifice first, seat width or seat pitch? Or phrased differently it would read like his: which one is more important to you, seat width or seat pitch?

      • Hi Normand and TW. I agree with TW that I’d rather more pitch, HOWEVER all airlines give you 32″or less no matter what seat width is. BA B787s even sink to 30″pitch. So width vs pitch is not a question, it is width versus nothing. At least you can twist sideways a bit in 18″.

      • I vote for pitch and having a good armrest to keep the obese passenger from invading my space. All this talk about seat width and pitch, is an aspect that rests with the airlines but no OEM is talking about raising the cruise speed which has been about the same since the DC-8 and 707.
        Spending less time in the air to me is increasing comfort by reducing time spent in cramped coach.
        The speed of sound is about 765 MPH, what holds back OEM’s from raising cruise speed to 650 to 700 MPH?
        Cutting hours from the flight time would be a real benefit to passengers and airlines could increase the number of legs a plane could fly in a day.
        Waiting for the OEM’s to bring to market another SST is decades away if ever.
        Increased cruise speed is a win-win situation for all involved.

        • I guess I don’t break it down that fine. After a couple of hours the comfort level falls to about the same as 3 or 4. Might feel different trans international 18 hour trips (that’s got to be gruesome)

          Speed is both money and range.

          Range is popular, speed costs fuel and range and therefore you won’t see it change.

  7. Is there a better on board baggage storage system than overhead bins? Most people do not access their large bags during the flight. If they loaded them into cartridges somewhere near the boarding door at the start, and retrieved them on the way out, this would eliminate reaching overhead. Store the bag at waist level, then let a motor lift the bag cartridges below or into the crown.

    In my mind Boeing has three choices for the mid range. Assuming building two models off of one wing, about 6m difference in length with roughly 600nm difference in range. The shorter model with 4,800nm range and a higher capacity model with 4,200nm range.

    Option 1: 3-3, copy the A320 cross section more or less.
    45m – 200p(mixed class), 51m – 230p
    roughly 120t MTOW, 40m wing, 40K engines

    Option 2: 2-2-2
    49m – 220p, 55m – 250p
    roughly 135t MTOW, 44m wing, 44K engines

    Option 2: 2-3-2
    53m – 250p, 59m – 285p
    roughly 150t MTOW, 48m wing, 48K engines

    • Overhead bins has long been a hobby horse of mine.
      The elderly, infirm and small of stature cannot use them without assistance and they are a menace in flight when someone wants to get into their bag.
      Have not even mentioned the delays they cause during boarding and disembarking.
      By using a bit of space engineering, I am sure a slide out under the seat drawer would be possible with a mini door to allow access in flight between ones legs.
      All sorts of objections of course, but get a small boat or caravan designer to have a go and see the outcome?
      The overhead bin is after all a relic of the steam age in trains. Time perhaps for a re-think.

  8. For me they should have made the 787 cabin 10-15 inch wider for better seats and aisles. Now there is no way back.

    Perception management, generalizations, denial, playing down and apples to oranges are left as tools. And the (hope driven) expectation people get used and forget.

    Boeing hopefully won’t make this mistake again on an NSA or MoM.

    • For me they should have made the 787 cabin 10-15 inch wider.

      The 777 cabin is already 15″ wider than the 787’s.

      • My understanding was that the B777 had an inherent shortfall in efficiency due to the large fuselage diameter compared to the A330/340. I appreciate that it has a number of advantages particularly regarding passenger comfort at 9 in economy and of course there are other issues to consider regarding fuselage length etc. The wetted area and the larger frontal. Area was however accepting a penalty that Boeing engineers had to make up. This has now been repeated so we have B787 at a disadvantage to A330 and the B777 at a disadvantage to A350. The only way this is made up is by going to 9 and 10 abreast. I didn’t realise that B777 were so capacious at 9 until recently…

      • Keeje: That puts it in as a 777.

        Wider vs the length ratio and you have the A300, needed to be longer and carry a lot more pax to be successful.

        Costs a lot and only mitigated if its a lot longer.

        It would have been a 777 replacement, and that is not what they were after.

  9. @Sowerbob

    “My understanding was that the B777 had an inherent shortfall in efficiency due to the large fuselage diameter compared to the A330/340.”

    This explains why initially the 777 was not very successful. It was an airplane that needed to be stretched into the 300ER, which offered better economics, provided you had a requirement as an operator for this kind of capacity. Any airplane model seems to have a sweet spot where it is most desirable. The 737-800 is right there. The A320 is in my judgement a little bit short, while the A321 is way too much of an airplane for many operators. I believe the A320.5 would just be perfect. And for the same reason I also think the CS500 will be the best seller in the C Series family because it will fall right in the middle of the comfort zone for a five-abreast. The 777-8 also looks perfect in size, but is too heavy and cannot compete adequately with the A350-1000, except on range. The entire 777-8 business case actually rests on the extra range it offers. As for the 777-9, I remain ambivalent. I think it has a far better chance of success than the A380, but that doesn’t say much because the probability of success for the A380 is nil. What helps the 777-9 is the fact that it is in a class by itself and remains a very interesting proposition for any operator that requires this kind of capacity. But the A350-1000/1100 offer lower risk for similar economics.

    “We have B787 at a disadvantage to A330 and the B777 at a disadvantage to A350. The only way this is made up is by going to 9 and 10 abreast.”

    For Boeing this is the best of both worlds. For the 787 and 777 can be advertised as superior in comfort in 8/9 configuration, while having superior economics when in 9/10 configuration. My understanding is that both aircraft were deliberately designed to be adaptable as 7/8 or 9/10. In other words this is no accident and is meant to be that way. This may actually explain why until recently Boeing had the upper hand in the widebody category.

    • Correction: My understanding is that both aircraft were deliberately designed to be adaptable as 7/8 or 9/10 should read were deliberately designed to be adaptable as 8/9 or 9/10.

      • Japan was always a key market and they do dense pack.

        If its good for them then ……..

        • They are significant smaller, that’s too simply important to ignore in this respect.

        • The japanese domestic widebodies have same seats as everyone else. The ‘dense pack’ comes from only having a small business class ( with no lie flats) as you would expect for flights around 1.5 or so hours or less. ANA 787-9 with 377 economy and 18 business(3 rows).

          • Thank you, I had seen a write-up on Ethiopia about dense pack on the 787s.

            Route to China and back with smaller body stature.

  10. @Normand

    I think you could be right on the B787. Re the B777 I understood the intention was to offer a new level of passenger comfort. I always felt that the A380 was designed to equal or trump that comfort factor, of course the B787 going to 9 across has ‘forced’ operators to 10 across on the B777 to be consistent. Will this backfire? I still think the jurys out on this one. I would like to think yes. I know I search out the A380, avoid the B787 and look for ‘old format’ B777. but I have massive choice in my city pairs, especially when accepting connecting flights.

    • From a purely objective standpoint the Boeing scheme is extremely appealing for a majority of operators. Needless to say that from a passenger perspective the experience can either be terrific (8/9) or horrific (9/10); it all depends on what the operator decides to do in terms of seat configuration. It remains a simple equation though: on one side we have the passenger who wants to pay minimum price for a ticket, and on the other side we have the operator who wants to maximize profit. So when we solve the equation we get the following: nine-abreast 787s and ten-abreast 777s. I think Boeing did the math long before I did.

    • Unfortunately the jury is no longer out on this one. Singapore and Cathay are the only two operators that still have 9 abreast in their 777 and Cathay plans to change that.

      There are only a few 787 with 8 abreast.

      As much as I dislike this, it seems the market has voted. I wish there would be more operators electing to offer a slightly superior experience and also advertise it much more to be able to charge the difference. Unfortunately it seems that is not how the market works

      • AA tried it some years ago with MRTC or “more room throughout coach”. It was short lived. Sad too because a couple of inches more in seat pitch really makes the trip much better. The flying public has become inoculated with the Walmart virus. Thus we have Frontier, Allegiant, and Spirit with the cattle car seating and fees for everything.

  11. Having read the Aurora D8 concept, you can see what the barriers are.

    To have a worth while increase requires an all new tech double bubble and structure center rib system. P&W is a participant so you can figure its a GTF of one sort or another.

    I have read 3 different efficiency gains, Aurora say 71%, AV week in print says 25%, Av Week on line says 50%. (all compared to a 737-800, so 15% or so of that has already been cut into with the MAX and NEOs.

    I will see if I can get it sorted out, they are talking a couple different speed versions.

    2035 in service date. Airbus can increase efficiency more with a new wing optimized to the new engines. Maybe e another 8%.

    That’s what it takes to do a leapfrog. While its Boeing own fault, they are in a bind that the best they can do is maybe at most a bit better than Airbus could do with a new wing. And then loose money on another program for 20 years as they are cost competing new build with old build.

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