Farnborough: Boeing reconsiders metal fuselage for NMA as cost remains major challenge

July 16, 2018, © Leeham News: Farnborough: Boeing has returned to considering a metal fuselage for the New Midmarket Aircraft as an alternative to the ovoid-based composite design that has been the focus for the past two-three years, multiple sources tell LNC.

Boeing hasn’t been able to narrow the cost of the composite design to a point where selling the aircraft in the $70m-range is feasible, sources say.

Among the issues
  • Composites are more expensive than metals.
  • Airlines are still conflicted about what the airplane should be.
  • Delta Air Lines wants a “CASM king,” with little interest in cargo.
  • United Airlines wants more flexibility, including cargo.
  • Asian carriers are interested in cargo.
  • Boeing still hasn’t closed the business case for the NMA.
  • The market demand remains a matter of debate. Boeing claims it’s between 4,000-5,000 airplanes. Others see it as closer to 2,500, with Airbus capturing a portion of this.
  • Boeing sees a major production makeover as one key to the business case, but challenges are significant.
  • Tying aftermarket services to sales of the NMA is also a key element.
Timeline slipping

For more than two years, Boeing officials claimed entry-into-service will be 2024-2025 if the program was launched.

Last year, LNC reported that some airlines and suppliers were told by Boeing a 2027 EIS was looking more likely. (Boeing Commercial Airplanes Corp Com denied this.)

In the first quarter earnings call, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg dropped reference to a 2024 EIS, pointing only to a 2025 EIS.

Ihssane Mounir, vice president of Commercial Sales & Marketing, last month indicated Boeing would “protect” a 2025 EIS but didn’t say how.

Steven Udvar-Hazy, chairman of Air Lease Corp, said at an Airfinance Journal conference in May engines won’t be ready until an EIS of 2026-2027.

Sam Pearlstein, the aerospace analyst for Wells Fargo, just issued a pre-air show note predicting a 2026-2027 EIS.

Key suppliers tell LNC EIS is more likely 2026-2027.

Authority to Offer, or ATO, the airplane for sale was anticipated in the fourth quarter this year and a formal program launch next year. But word is emerging that ATO is now targeted for the first quarter.

LNC has further indications that even a 2026-2027 EIS may be moved to the right.

Air show presentation

Boeing this week will talk about future airplanes during the Farnborough Air Show. How much information about the NMA, if any, will be included remains to be seen. Previous future airplane presentations seen by LNC were more esoteric: electric, hybrid and radical designs were the focus.

52 Comments on “Farnborough: Boeing reconsiders metal fuselage for NMA as cost remains major challenge

  1. The NMA suffers from the most extreme cost-performance-technology trade offs we have seen for some time. It need to be CFRP to be competitive in terms of weight and performance but it need to be Al to meet the costs. This is just one aspect of the package. I get the feeling that when/if Boeing take the plunge they will make a lot of Airlines very satisfied by plugging the MOM space.

    Unfortunately they will not make a cent out of the aircraft and the only ‘win’ for them is that they will check the progress of the A321 to some degree. As an OEM is it the aim to hurt your oponent or to make money for your shareholders? There is overlap between the two aims of course. Senior management of both often act on the former when surely pursuing the latter is a more appropriate goal.

    • Carbon wings are a no brainer but would a carbon fuselage be significantly lighter once all the latest alloy tech has been incorporated?I get the feeling that carbon is important only to make the ovoid fuselage work.Would it even be worth having a slightly heavier carbon fuselage in exchange for the maintainence benefits?
      Are Boeing lying about EIS order to try and delay A330NEO orders?

      • Different markets despite what Airbus contends.

        70 million for an A330NEO? I don’t think so.

        • Was wondering if Boeing is not starting to consider an B767 with Al-Li fuselage, CFRP wing and 50Klb (CFM initially) engines, something along the lines of the 777X? Risk will be relatively low.

          The ramp-up and production could also be relatively quick and production methodology streamlined through the experienced gained with the 777X lowering production costs. In the long term it could also replace the 767F as freighter?

          If you lower the floor (as TED suggests below) you could drop the floor and could go 2-4-2 at the the expense of hold space?

          Spend your big bucks and tech on the NSA/FSA, the biggest market, with new brothers EMB’s technical input.

          • 767 is a double bubble with the “seam” at the floor, so lowering the floor would be hard. additionally, the widest part of the fuselage is already at elbow/shoulder height so lowering the floor actually costs you width.

            re-engineering the lower lobe to be LD3-45 instead (45″ high by 96″ wide) of double LD2 (64 high by 124 wide) sized would save significant weight and reduce frontal area as well as moving to a much more widely used cargo module standard.

            actually, looking at the cross-section drawings of a 767, if they wanted to, they could go to a fully round tube at 767 fuse width and fit ld3-45s under the floor….

            redo the fuse in Al-Li and save ~10% in fuse structure, CF wing and new engines likely will weigh more than the legacy aluminum wing and engines, so net/net you are probably breaking even on weight vs a current gen 767.

            of course you will have 30+% better SFC just due to modern engines and another 10% due to the wing and various aero enhancements, meaning a lot less fuel to fly the same mission

          • I also thught the 767-2 was a good start for a MOM but then realized that all systems, engine, wings and structues are old and need replacement (unless you are the USAF controlled by congress), then you have a new aircraft anyway, hence Boeing is right that the 767 in a MOM No Go.
            The 787 cross section is too fat and expensive for this aircraft, to make it very flexible, light and durable you want a CFRP wing+structure maybe a simpler solution than lots of CFRP tape in layup in expensive tools and slow Autoclave bake but out of autoclave quick production.
            Many 787 systems can be made cheaper&simpler and good enough for the 797. Still Boeing is at the mercy of the suppliers like Electroimpact and Torres of how fast, cheap and good their designs can be produced and what risks there are that problems pop up that take time and money to solve.
            The unique engine with nacelle is another issue that can cost customers dearly as normally aircrafts are sold without engines and Buyer Furinshed Equipment “BFE’s” that are negotiated separately making a $75M bare aircraft quickly becoming a $140M aircraft with engines, BFE’s, tools, training, access to a full flight simulator, spare engines with parly full QEC and the result of the initial spare parts provisioning conference.

  2. Not a major surprise that Boeing is still deciding what to do with the 797.

    With a list price of $209 million for a 767-300ER, and a list price of near enough to $130 million for a 737 Max 10, it’s hard to see how Boeing can produce a 797 anywhere near close to $70 million. I think $90 to $100 million depending on variant is far closer to the mark although that may also be optimistic.

    Great position for Airbus to be in, wait until Boeing commits to the 797, and takes orders to be realistically delivered in 2026-2027 (without engines they’re gliders remember), and then announce an enhanced A321LR that takes out the bottom half of the MOM market but is available by 2022.

    Net result Boeing signed up to make a loss on each aircraft sold until they cancel the programme.

    Is Boeing waiting to see if Airbus announces an enhanced A321LR first, and then state they cannot make a 797 at a price that makes sense ? Who is going to blink first ?

    Who will be first to announce they’re working on a new single isle family ?

    • Well, it looks like Airbus is actually not just waiting. They are heading for an EIS for the A321XLR for 2022. We should expect a range of 5.000 miles, matching the planed range of the 797. It will probably feature the newly developed CFRP wingbox, improving tank capacity as well as reducing weight. Possibly also a wing extension / winglet.

      • Folding wingtip i’ve read. They need to stay in the same gates.

  3. I sometimes wonder if Boeing wishes they had picked up the c-series, added the cs500 and then developed a bigger brother to it in the A321+ size range all with a single pilot rating.

    Then skip developing the NMM. Then reconsider the the shrink of the 787.

    • I don’t think the guys in charge at BA thought about that seriously when they met with Bombardier. I think they were mostly trying to ascertain how close Bombardier was to filing for bankruptcy. Boeing was late to the table to build the MAX version of the B737, too. It’s all a reaction to what is the least they have to do. They make good planes, but if the A320 hadn’t come along, or the A330, they might have tried to nurse along lots of old technology aerospace.

      • Agreed. The whole episode smacks of a lack of strategic imagination on Boeing’s part. Though perhaps they considered being more closely tied to Emb was the better long term plan, and just didn’t realise what could be got from BBD for free (as Airbus found). Perhaps it was just a matter of making the offer in French.

        And if course in between Boeing talking to BBD and Airbus arriving on the scene, BBD finished the C Series and got it into service where it rapidly proved to be reliable and better than advertised. This was all really quite a rapid sequence of events, and I think Boeing just didn’t react quickly enough. Whilst the C Series was garnering good in-service reviews, Boeing was probably still focused on BBD being a financial basket case, and never found a calendar slot to reassess the situation.

        Having read about how Airbus became interested, it sounds like it was a bit of lucky timing, and quick decision making by Airbus’s management; this was too good an opportunity to pass on.

        Regardless, it’s become a massive strategic hit for Airbus, and a big miss for Boeing. And now it seems that Airbus can pinch a decent share of whichever market by modest tweaks to their current models whilst Boeing seemingly have to do two full on developments just to get back on par.

    • They done it already when they bough Douglas and then shut down Long Beach. This time is smells like they want Embraer to design the 737 sucessor cheaply and get them half fininshed from Brazil to add the engines, nacelle, APU and paint and the software to all systems and sell them for twice what Embraer gets for the finished structures with wings attached.

  4. By the time the “797” flies there won’t be many 767’s (or 757’s) left to replace.

    An A321LR-Enhanced and A322Re (Regional) with 20-25 more seats than the 321 (3500Nm range), both with new wing could be interesting.

    • That has a shade of serious truth to it!

      I would like to see it before I go.

      Of course all those retired 757s and 767s would make nice freighter conversions!

  5. With a round metal fuselage, there is the design decision of where to place the floor on the circle. The A330 floor is proportionally a higher up chord on the circle.. The NMA floor could be proportionally lower, three feet lower than the center would put the passengers shoulders and windows at the widest section. This would have a much smaller cargo compartment than the 767.
    A smaller option is a 14′-4″ outside diam. 2-2-2 fuselage with an LD3-45 containers, up to 8m longer/50 more seats than the A321.

    • If you drop pax 3 feet lower you have huge amount of unused (wasted) upper space and no financial benefit.

      Ergo the issues of elliptical and how to acomoadte more cargo and still have it work.

      • Not 3 ft lower, just enough that the widest part of the fuselage is about 3 ft. above the floor.

    • Yes, the 2-2-2 or, more likely, a wider than the A-320 new single aisle that becomes the successor to the 737/ as well as a replacement for the 757 and 767 is where IMHO, they should go. EIS starts with the larger and/or heavier variants with the larger of two wings and moves down, with the smaller wing, to replace the 738 eventually.

    • I’d love to see a 2-2-2 seating configuration, but I don’t know whether it could be made competitive. 172 inches seems too fat. My envisioned airliner would be skinny as possible while allowing a 2-2-2 that had a meaningful uptake in the marketplace (e.g., implemented for 10%-25% of its sales as opposed to standard 3-3).

      A previous Bjorn article (Part 3: Boeing 757 replacement: 757 and Airbus A321neoLR versus clean sheet designs.) concluded that a clean sheet with a 163.4-inch round fuselage would be more efficient than the A321neoLR, although the article was from 2014. That was shown as an NSA proposal, but maybe it could fit a tight 2-2-2. A configuration w/17.5″ seats, 1.5″ armrests, and two 17″ aisles requires a 152.5″ cabin width. That makes a difference of 10.9″ between cabin and fuselage width, which is more than that value for the 320 and 737, so it seems like a 2-2-2 plane is a competitive possibility.

  6. Looking at the new BBD CRJ interior, you need a snake to get down he aisle.

    Bigger bins, mood lighting, anything but good let room.

    • There’s only so much you can do when applying lipstick onto a CRJ. Bombardier and Mitsubishi need to get together to set up a JV for regional jets. Boeing will probably be abandoning Mitsubishi after purchasing Embraer (conflict of interest in the regional space, MRJ vs. E2). Bombardier can help sell/service MRJs in North America and Europe. The CRJ needs to retire.

  7. Well, this tastes like sweet triumph – I would have to check it, but I believe I predicted half a year ago that the concept, materials and target pricing would never match. Those who know about material and production cost of CFRPs could easily see that this was one one big bluff of Boeings to throw sand in the eyes of the entire market and to to damage the A321 and A330-NEO as best as they could.

    So what now? An aluminum fuselage to bring the price down, fine, but oval? I doubt that very much, as it would require some significant reinforcements and thus weight. So it will be round. Sized like the 767 maybe 2-3-2? With seat mile costs identical to the A330. Or make it 2-4-2 and fit 2 LD-3s like the A330, which would also please the freight-heavy markets. That would be a modern version of the A330 but wasn’t the 787 destined to take that role?

    And then Boeing is still talking about 2025 EIS? Seriously? Is there still anybody out there buying that?

    So what’s the logic here? Twin aisle planes make sense only with at least 8 abreast, maybe even 9. But a short version like the A310 is not very efficient either. Its big fuselage created too much drag.

    On the other hand, CFRP would allow to make a rather long but still ight weight single-isle plane. Why not go for something like a 60 m fuselage with a wider aisle, just like a MC-21-600 if you will. Then ad a 50m version for even longer range.

    Such a plane would not come cheap, with production cost pretty close to the A330NEO. But it would offer significantly lower seat mile costs. Should be even better than the 787-8. It would be a worthy 757 successor.

    We still need new engines.

  8. BA should re-evaluate the 797. Put it on the shelf for a few years, till you get your about “perfect” 45,000 lb. thrust engine in view—on paper/cad/cam. Instead launch an interim 767-200X, with 787 carbon, straked wings, exclusive, latest CF6-80s/“old” bleed air, or Genxs, preferred electric architecture systems (no bleed air per/like the 787), 787 glass cockpit/joint type rating. Provide a leased/ Gold Care unbeatable option, through Boeing Capital. (Ten to twelve year initial leases; when they come back to BCC, they’re freighter convertible ready—if not released.) Hey, it’s late, but it would still sell. You could even name it the “767 Cross Ocean”! Move the Everett 787 line to Charleston, to free up space to pump out 10 or more of these 200Xs per month—rapidly.

    • I think they have looked at all those ‘possibilities’ and have been ruled out, especially the re-engined 767-200. While they could make better than existing 767s the airlines wont want it. There is everything from residual values to old style maintenance programs that wont work. Plus it would play right into the hands of Airbus who really can offer an improved A321+ or compete on price new engine with the A330 neo.

  9. Boeing still has the option to max the 767 with the genx-2b engines and some aero tweaks. If they are serious about the MOM, that is pretty much their only choice, if they want something to enter service before 2030.

    • A 767 has been discussed and considered here and at Boeing more than once, but it simply is no option. No FBW, no supercritical wing, too expensive to produce, would require an all new interior and a new engine (which again is impossible because numbers are too small). It’s so completely outdated as a passenger plane that there isn’t the slightest chance of reviving it.

  10. MTorres in Spain has done a proof of concept carbon fibre fuselage by building it from ‘inside out’ rather than the current method of creating a thin skin and then adding internal stiffeners either by co bonding stringers or adhesives for internal ribs.
    They use larger number of shorter fuselage rings which are then bought together in a jig for the outer carbon skin be be layed up last. They rely on increased automation for assembling this sytem.
    The story is in Composites World

    • Thanks for the link, indeed a very interesting idea. Though I’m not sure if it is exactly feasible for a large airliner, I can picture this process used in the near future for business jets or even regional planes.

      Two core ideas come to play here: Discarding fasteners is probably the most important one. No glider, bike frame, F1 racecar or any other similar product would be built in such a funny way. I reminds me of the first carbon fiber bike frames that were made with lugs, just like a welded steel frame.

      This is certainly the step (or leap) that both Boeing and Airbus have to make: Build a one-piece metal-free CFRP fuselage.

      The 797 would certainly be an opportunity to go for it. It would take considerable time to develop both the product and the production and maybe even longer to test and certify it, but so would the new (geared engine). I would propose an EIS not before 2030.

      • they actually use a ton of fasteners on F1 cars. the “chassis” is just the driver safety cell and fuel tank and is generally made in one piece. everything else is bolted on (so as to be easily upgraded or replaced after a crash) the crash structures, nose, wings, sidepods, floor etc are all held to the chassis (or engine or transmission) by quick release fasteners.

        • Yes of course I was talking about the chassis. I took it for granted that everybody would understand that. Accordingly a glider is not made in one piece, but its fuselage and each wing is. And that’s the point, the big project of making an airliner fuselage in one piece.

  11. CFM already seem to have contingency plans for an over 50klb engine requirement. This is getting too close to being a low tech 787/A330 alternative for medium haul. It will canibalize 787 sales, and the current flood of low priced 787s is already eating into the medium range with freight maket. Does this make sense?

    • Yes, CFM can certainly develop a larger Leap engine without too much delay. The question is if that’s enough. I believe that geared engines will be significantly more efficient. I’m really curious if and when RR will bring out the first Ultrafan and how it will stack up against the GTF.

      • MartinA: I don’t see it doing anything to 787 sales.

        Much like an A220 vs an E2. Both have their place and its pretty sharp.

        I still want to see it.

  12. Not sure where all this leaves BA — highly profitable but unable to take a big step forward.

    The B797 programme theme tune must be “Let’s go round again” by the AWB as sung by the Grand Old Duke of York.

  13. If the B797 is working to a real world price of $70mill or thereabouts what is the current real world cost of an A321?

    Also is the $70mill figure 2018 dollars, 2025 dollars or 2028 dollars?

    • Wondering the same thing. Is this a list price of $140 million with a actual deal price of $70 million when you buy 50 of them? Seems quite unreal. I should run over to the Ford Dealer in town and say I want to buy that $60,000 F150 for 30K. Actually, these big major airlines are probably pressuring BA, AB, BBD and EMB to build more parts for their planes in (LCC) Low Cost Countries and assemble them in areas of the World where the workers have a Third World standard of living. I know of some of what I say here from first hand knowledge of this…

  14. One element that is not given enough prominence in the B797 / MoM’ster debate is the growth angle.

    The B767 started off as a 140T aeroplane — based on an 80T OEW.

    It then became a 160T — 180T — 200T OEW family of aeroplanes over time.

    Any fuselage CSA / barrel arrangement will need to take this into account — it might be cargo light to begin with but it will become more capable as the platform and crucially the powertrain / engine options develop.

    The trendy wendy wide but shallow oval arrangement will have issues with cargo volume if the platform grows in capability later in its lifetime.

    The wimpy kid arrangement — 8 wide @17” / A320 cargo set up — seems to be pleasing no-one at the moment. Bring back the Sonic Cruiser all is forgiven.

  15. The ones believing 2-3-2 composites oval for NB efficiency / prices might try to be a bit more objective next time IMO.

  16. Hearing how Boeing can’t close the business case for the NMA, or the debate over the MAX versus going from the NG to a new design, did Boeing ever make a business case for the 777x, more less close it? That seems like the ten billion dollar elephant, not the MAX or the NMA, which are easy ROI and low hanging fruit in my opinion.

    • The 777x business case had much the same ‘slow reveal’ and was partly the same marketing cover up. They know exactly where the design is going-after all Boeing is very good at this- and maybe the engine design is close to signoff but not quite there. I’m firmly of the belief the rest of the delay is marketing bumpf to play games with Airbus and get them to play their cards first

      • Not sure it is as clear cut as that.

        I think that BA are struggling to close out what they want to offer — currently stuck in a loop with no clear way out.

        Mod vs Trad in a 1950’s Jazz style dust up.

        High tech moonshot / trendy wendy layout / Executive hope and engineering swagger points to the $70mill price, fuel economy targets and corporate salvation plus AB ruin.

        Reality and a B767 Double Max aircraft with limited fuselage / wing / materials enhancements points to cost issues, performance issues and a strong AB response.

        I think that BA is taking a more realistic view of the Mod angle — moonshot / high risk aspects are all to visible at the moment to a company that remembers it had to engineer the B787 twice.

        Not sure what happens next — BA has to move first as the A32X platform will just naturally expand and generate sales at higher than average real world prices.

        AB seems to have some detailed plans to get the A321++ MTOW up to 105 / 108 / 110T. The more they do to the wing the easier it will be to find an engine.

        MoM’ster gap closes by 30% plus if they do that.
        And that is only the start.

        My view is that BA wants to do Mod.
        However they still have nightmares over the B787.
        It took 15 years for it all to settle down.

        Have they the cash to get them through to 2033/34 if history repeats itself?

        B777X = Q+D update.
        B737MAX = Q+D update.
        B797 MoM’ster = ???

    • Huge tax subsidies from Washington state made the 77x business case bulletproof.

  17. If the B797 has a target revenue figure of $70mill then where does that number fit in with the rest of the industry?

    A321 = $50mill real world price?
    B787 – 8 = $120mill real world price?

    Then there are the outliers:

    B777F = Giving them away to keep line moving?

  18. Alu round tube 757 replacement as soon as AB launches the A322/3.Follow on with something better,this is the logical next step.Followed by spiral development of MOM and NSA.

  19. Like the Phoenix, it too shalt rise form the ashes.

    Me thinks its a bit premature to declare it kaput.

    • When you get some fundamental ideas wrong at the very beginning, then it’s never too early to declare it kaputt. Except it’s just a P.R. piece. Then you keep it alive until it dies in laughter.

  20. Boeing likes to study things ad nauseum. Executives there are risk-averse for fear of killing their golden goose paychecks.

    They haven’t learned anything from the NEO experience and the delayed MAX introduction which resulted in lost market share.

  21. No matter the lack of focus and urgency from BA the MoM gap still remains …

    BA = 45T OEW to 120T OEW.
    AB = 50T OEW to 125T OEW.

    Rough numbers but it shows the magnitude of the issue.
    Incredible that a global industry with a myriad of markets and customers has stagnated into two main product types so far apart.

    50T OEW = enough floor area for 210 standard seats at 6 wide.
    125T OEW = enough floor area for 320 standard seats at 8 wide.

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