By Bjorn Fehrm
March 21, 2017, ©. Leeham Co: The NMA (New Mid-range Aircraft), or, as it’s called more and more, the Boeing 797, is hot. The potential buyers at the recent ISTAT meeting in San Diego urged Boeing to take the decision and get it done.
At the same meeting Airbus responds, “Any NMA gap is covered. Our A321neo and A330-800 is available and and no new aircraft is needed.”
Time to look at who’s right. Is there an NMA gap or not? Is there a difference in how Airbus’ and Boeing’s product lineups cover the market?
When Airbus and Boeing present their present product lines, all seems well. Both cover the market with well-positioned aircraft, be it single-aisle or wide-body, Figure 1. The overlapping coverage in seat capacity is reassuring.
Boeing now more and more admits there is a gap. This is where it wants to sell the NMA. Could the gap be that the present largest single aisle, 737 MAX 9, stops at 220 seats and the next model, 787-8, starts at 240 seats? Or is the gap that the MAX 9 only flies 3,500nm and the 787 flies north of 7,300nm?
Airbus tells us that the A321LR covers the market up to 240 seats and flies 4,000nm. It says the A330-800 starts at 250 seats and flies as far as you want, more than 7,000nm. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that this is all Apples and Oranges. The single-aisle aircraft are presented with domestic two-class cabins (180 seats for MAX 9 and 194 seats for A321neo) or even high-density cabins (220 seats for the MAX 9 and 240 seats for the A321LR).
At the same time, the wide-bodies are presented with long range two-class cabins, which have business seats taking up to three times the space of the equivalent single-aisle seat. And they weigh four times more. Further, the range presented is not with the presented seat differences. It’s with the typical configurations where the seat counts between narrow-body and wide-body are far apart.
If we equip all compared aircraft with the same seat standard, the true seat gaps surface.
The A330-800 and 787-8 hold around 240 seats with our normalized long-range two class configuration. Normalized means: we keep the relationship the same between business class seats and economy seats, around 15% business of all seats.
It also means that all passengers, be it narrow-body or wide-body, can get their second meal before reaching the long-range destination. We have the same number of serving trays per passenger irrespective if you fly an A321LR or 787-8 over the Atlantic. And the same number of passengers per lavatory.
With the same stringent rules giving 240 seats for an A330-800 or 787-8, we can pack 153 passengers in an A321LR, an eye-opening margin from the standard two- class 194 seats, let alone 240. The MAX 9 is no better; it houses a paltry 142 seats.
The high-density configuration is the bragging configuration for single-aisle aircraft. Airbus boasts it can transport 240 people in an A321LR. Yes you can, at 28-inch pitch with slimline seats. And the 240 passengers share three lavatories, Figure 2. This makes 80 passengers per lavatory. Normal is 40.
If we use the same comfort standard when packing an A330-800 or 787-8, we get north of the 380 passenger exit limit of the A330-800 in the aircraft (the 787-8 exit limit is 420 seats).
At these densities, none of the aircraft flies their advertised range. The A321LR stops at 3,300nm and the 787-8 at 6,000nm.
There is a real seat capacity gap in the market. In Apples-to-Apples comparisons, it’s around 100 seats. This gap doesn’t change much if we measure with Long-range , Domestic or High-density rules.
As long as we measure consistently across all different aircraft models there is a gap of around 100 seats in the Boeing lineup. And we find roughly the same gap in the Airbus product range, give or take 10 seats.