Boeing's vision of the future has no place for the 747 or A380

Boeing's vision of the future has no place for the 747 or A380

Boeing sees the future and it doesn’t include jumbo passenger jets. Not its own iconic 747 – but not the Airbus A380 'superjumbo', for that matter.

The US planemaker has dropped the category reserved for four-engine behemoths from its annual forecast for the commercial-aircraft market. Instead, Boeing predicts that airlines will use more efficient twin-engine jets for long-range flights – like its 787 Dreamliner, 777X or the mid-market 797 that’s on the drawing board.

By leaving so-called very large aircraft off its two-decade projection for a US$6.05 trillion jetliner market, Boeing said it was reflecting a market reality: There is little to no chance of reviving sales.

Both the Chicago-based company and Airbus already had pared production of their biggest aircraft as orders dwindled, and Boeing has warned it may end 747 production.

Four engines are two too many

"We don’t see much demand for really big aircraft going forward," Randy Tinseth, Boeing’s vice president for marketing, said at a briefing ahead of the Paris Air Show, which began Monday. “We find it hard to believe that Airbus will deliver the rest of their A380s in backlog."

Airbus still sees a long-term market for the planes although it didn’t log a single A380 sale last year.

The European manufacturer says airlines will need larger jets as passenger traffic doubles and congestion limits the number of flights into megahubs, particularly in Asia and the Middle East. The company projects potential sales of 1,406 of the largest commercial aircraft, valued at US$454 billion through 2037.

Boeing trumpets the 797's 'lighter touch'

As the jumbo era ends at Boeing, the planemaker sees a new market emerging for mid-range airplanes overlapping the largest single-aisle and smallest twin-aisle jets.

“They went big and heavy, we went small and efficient,” said Mike Delaney, Boeing vice president and general manager for airplane development. “We’ll overfly our competitors, put a lighter gauge on things."

The plane Boeing is developing – dubbed the 797 or NMA, for new mid-market airplane –  would seat between 220 and 270 travelers and fly about 5,000 nautical miles.

The goal is to spur growth with jetliners that avoid hubs and fly direct to smaller cities on routes that aren’t properly matched to today’s aircraft. Think Washington to Prague, Japan to India, or within China’s “Golden Triangle’’ of Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing.

Airlines also could use the new jet on transcontinental flights to replace aging Boeing 757 and 767 jets. Budget carriers could graduate from single-aisle jets to the larger planes for more-popular routes.

Tinseth projects a potential market of 4,000 to 5,000 sales in that segment over 20 years.

Clogged aisles

Airbus has already made advances in that market with its largest single-aisle plane, the A321neo, and is exploring a stretched version that would hold more than 240 travelers.

While that narrow-body would probably be cheaper than the new Boeing dual-aisle, the US company sees a competitive advantage in a design that lets passengers board and disembark far more quickly.

Single-aisle aircraft like the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 will still rule the market, accounting for nearly three-quarters of total sales, according to Boeing’s forecast. The planemaker predicts a need for 29,530 narrow-bodies valued at US$3.18 trillion through 2036.

The next most popular type will be small wide-body aircraft, like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A330, accounting for 5,050 deliveries or 12 percent of forecast sales, Boeing predicts.

Sales of very large aircraft will probably be confined to Boeing’s niche-market 747-8 freighter and a handful of jets for VIPs, like the next Air Force One for the US president.

The hump-backed 747 – which in 1970 ushered in a new era of mass long-range travel – eventually will be replaced at the top of the jetliner food chain by Boeing’s 777X. The first delivery for that 400-seat plane is scheduled for 2020.

“The biggest airplane in the market moving forward is going to be the 777X,” Tinseth said.

 

16 comments

  • patrickk

    patrickk

    20 Jun, 2017 07:05 pm

    Japan to India??? Any flight to Mumbai would require a large plane; it is severely slot restricted and perfect for an A380 if India would allow it.
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  • Orus Picarous

    oruspicarous

    21 Jun, 2017 03:37 pm

    A380s have been allowed since 2014 although EY has had trouble with filling up premium classes so I guess only "ultra-high config" will work for Mumbai
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  • FLX

    FLX1

    22 Jun, 2017 12:43 pm

    patrickk:
    "Japan to India??? Any flight to Mumbai would require a large plane.."
    U're missing the point of Boeing's MoM/797 concept in mkts like Japan to India.  In Asia-Pcf, it's about opening up new long routes to Tier 2 mega cities/trade centers.

    1st of all, only 4 daily nonstop frequencies currently exist between India and Japan.  NRT-DEL x3(by JL, NH and AI) and  NRT-BOM x1(by NH), all flown by 788/789....both significantly larger than Boeing's MoM/797 concept but still much smaller than a 380.

    2ndly, NRT-BOM did not even existed a decade ago.  When NH launched it in 2007, it was possible because they initially deployed small 737s(737-700ER specially configured for long range).  NH's 787 on the same route today has shown that traffic between Japan-India has certainly grown but smaller type was the key to open up such new routes.

    Finally, Japan is not only NRT and India is certainly not only BOM or DEL.  MoM/797 is targeted for routes non-existent today between Japan and India such as:
    NRT-BLR /MAA (Bengaluru /Chennai)
    BOM /DEL-KIX /NGO (Kansai /Nagoya)

    Each of these 4 metro regions where new nonstop Japan-India links can be created is among the largest+richest trade /industrial centers in their nations and each has well above 8m in population....Kansai population alone is above 24m which is practically equal to Australia's.

    None of the 4 has traffic volume today to support even a single daily nonstop Japan-India frequency with type size such as 787/330(let alone 380) but possible with the smaller MoM/797.
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  • Serg

    Serg

    20 Jun, 2017 07:41 pm

    It is sad but true - B747 slowly but surely going from out skies.
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  • lafleche

    lafleche

    20 Jun, 2017 09:36 pm

    call me old-fashioned, but I still feel better with 4 engines over 2.... particularly when crossing the Pacific

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  • alexlips99

    alexlips99

    20 Jun, 2017 09:55 pm

    It's sad, I think a lot of fliers love the B747 and A380 as they inspire awe and nostalgia. You just have to look at the order log to see that Boeing's estimations are true.
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  • traveller90

    traveller90

    21 Jun, 2017 09:26 pm

    The airlines have it wrong - a bit call I hear you say but they are running on numbers generated over the past 10 years. While cheap and free money is about, the industry will see increase with its passenger loads with selected non hub route growth, but when the economy crashes, which it will soon, the legacy airlines, along with their hub routes flying the larger wide bodies 747 and A380 will once again rule - the aviation blueprint of the 70's will return as the economic crash will rebalance the industry and the new generation discount aviators of the past 10 years returning to land transport or simply staying at home while the business and old money traveller will continue to fly, in reduced numbers as before. The trend is cyclic and time will show this. This gross expansion will not be sustained.
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  • FLX

    FLX1

    22 Jun, 2017 01:15 pm

    @traveller90:
    Let me try to understand your line of reasoning:

    "...when the economy crashes....the legacy airlines...flying the larger wide bodies 747 and A380 will once again rule"

    because

    "...the new generation discount aviators...returning to land transport or simply staying at home while the business and old money traveller will continue to fly, in reduced numbers as before."

    Ok, so in essence, U're saying with reduced traffic overall due to econ downturn, more airlines will prefer to operate larger capacity types such as 747/380 rather than smaller types? 

    Sorry, but that's just totally defies basic econ logics.

    There's 1 fundamental truth about the econ aspect of airline fleet choice mentioned by an ex-Chairman of AA decades ago:

    Regardless of good or bad times in the economy and high or low traffic volume routes, you can never go broke because of flying an airplane too small but you can go broke because of flying an airplane too large.
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  • traveller90

    traveller90

    23 Jun, 2017 01:00 pm

    Enjoyed your feedback. I agree with your economic definition, and I should have clarified by adding "larger aircraft, but with lesser frequency". I feel the AA's chairman's views may have been made during the time when down sizing aircraft comparisons were the 707 to the Electra and DC8 to the DC9 - and not included the newly released larger 747, DC10 and L1011's which mostly only flew the main and heaving trunk routes between the main international hubs of the day.

    I do have a passion for 4 engine aircraft over the dual engine long haul aircraft, but still stand true with my view that with reduced passenger loads, larger aircraft flying main trunk routes with a reduced frequency with codeshare arrangements like in the 70's with QF TE and BOAC, is where the future will be - and this was my focus in original comment. I simply see a return to the 60's and 70's. I fully believe following the economic collapse, this is the only way the legacy airlines will survive. But this is only my opinion. Let us see which way it goes.

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  • FLX

    FLX1

    24 Jun, 2017 12:34 am

    @traveller90:
    But U're missing the point about the opportunity available to operators now to fly smaller twin-engine widebodies also with reduced frequency on BOTH trunk and 2ndly routes that are very long during an econ downturn.  This option help to keep load factor high even when overall traffic volume is down and is critical to sustain op cost.

    Until the advent of smaller twins with very long range such as 359 & 789, this wasn't econ feasible nor technically possible.  Both types now hv per seat op cost nearly matching the big boys such as the 380/748i quads and even the big 77W twin in low density config(i.e. 9 abreast in Y).  Most importantly, this pair already has range performance matching or even slightly exceeding the big boys.  When SQ/UA is already flying SFO->SIN nonstop daily against the notorious N.Pacific headwinds yr-round in more or less normal 359/789 longhaul cabin density(i.e. not some special low-payload, low cabin density premium config designed to squeeze out more range), little tech nor econ justification remain to invest in a 380/748i that is only needed for trunk routes when traffic volume/econ climate is good.

    This is the fundamental reason why:
    a) 748i sales is firmly finished.
    b) Airbus is forced to consider taking 380 production rate down to 0.5 per mth despite its supply chain/assembly infrastructure scaled for 4 per mth.
    c) 77X sales stuck @ a little over 300 units since launch 3.5yrs ago.
    d) 35K sales stuck @ a little over 200 units since launch 10yrs ago.
    e) 359 is by far the best-selling Airbus widebody type today  with a firm backlog total exceeding those for 380+35K+339Neo COMBINED.
    f) 789 is by far the best-selling Boeing widebody type today  with a firm backlog total exceeding those for 748i+77X+78J   COMBINED.
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  • traveller90

    traveller90

    24 Jun, 2017 09:01 am

    Hello again. I simply believe for the majority of passengers the romance of travel and the aircraft type they travel on is where the answer lies. Don't forget the origin of this discussion for me was following a global economic downturn and the passenger loads I speak of are those who will still be able to afford to fly. Before FF schemes, passengers flew on the airlines they liked and the aircraft they liked as airfares globally were fairly much in balance. Now with FF schemes in place and bean counters running the airlines, along with the budget carriers arriving over the past 20 years, marketing and cost per seat mile is todays measure by the operators.

    I feel long haul passengers would still prefer to travel in the space of 747's rather than the smaller cramped 789's and 359's, especially given the 16+ hour flights now being sold, and with reduced frequency, operators would be able to fill the 748'sand A380's with careful scheduling. Fewer flights, catering for reduced passenger numbers, in larger planes with a cheaper cost per seat as apposed to the same number of passengers travelling in smaller planes, with a higher frequency and higher cost per seat. Economies of scale!

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  • Phillip Maguire

    Felipe

    21 Jun, 2017 10:31 pm

    I do second the other person's comments, regarding 4 engine aircraft...    I much prefer a 4 engine aircraft going from Australia direct to South America, or South Africa.  Be it the 747 or the A380.    I don't like to fly 2 engine aircraft  so south over the expansive Southern Pacific or  Indian Oceans, for obvious reasons.   I certainly would not discount the jumbo sized 4 engine aircraft from the passenger market just yet.    Where would Emirates Airways be if they did not fly the A380 from Australia to Dubai?    In Dubai, passengers can then transfer to mid size aircraft for smaller European or Mediterranean cities,  avoiding a large hub-size airport at their arrival city.   It seems that Emirates and similar carriers are very well served by the A380, and in due course, they will need new ones to update their fleet.   That's my personal view as a traveller. 
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  • FLX

    FLX1

    22 Jun, 2017 01:48 pm

    @Felipe:
    And I still do not understand why some folks prefer 4 engines over 2 even for extremely long routes over the ocean.

    Even if we completely ignore statistical facts such as the ultra-high reliability level of modern turbofans, the ETOPS regime has been running for 30yrs.  Over these 3 decades, how many times hv we heard that a twin engine airliner suddenly fell into the ocean strictly because it's missing 1 or 2 extra turbofans on its tail fin /wings?  Moreover, those few incidents involving shut-down of both turbofans were all caused by tech issues that would hv also shut-down any additional turbofan installed onboard anyway.

    I guess I can only understand the preference for flying with 4 engines over 2 engines like how I understand why some still prefer to ride on a steam locomotive rather than a 400km/h+ MAGLEV train or why some still prefer a 4.0L V8 over a 2.0L 4 cylinder turbo even if they generate the exact same max power+torque but return drastically diff fuel economy in a car....
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  • traveller90

    traveller90

    23 Jun, 2017 01:09 pm

    To add to the conversation, the wide bodied 747's and A380's have the opportunity to provide added comfort levels for all passengers with lounges for F and J, and Y having standing zones due to the aircrafts size and configuration. The EK A380 is a good example of this  - especially for the Y passenger. There is nothing like have some quiet stand up zones to stretch the body given the 14 - 18 hours flights they travel. Try to do the same in a 14 - 18 hour EK 772LR or the proposed QF 789 PER to LHR. It's not the same!
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  • FLX

    FLX1

    24 Jun, 2017 01:10 am

    traveller90:
    "747's and A380's have the opportunity to provide added comfort levels for all passengers with lounges for F and J, and Y having standing zones due to the aircrafts size and configuration."
    For F & J pax, lounge space can be easily replicated on smaller twin widebodies if airlines choose to do so....and a few of them do adopt it in smaller versions.  In reality, especially large lounge spaces on 380 are adopted almost exclusively by the Gulf Big3.  Other 380 operators typically chose to adopt lounge spaces not much larger than the equivalents on smaller widebodies.

    For Y pax, where exactly are the "standing zones" on a 380 U are referring to?  I hv flown in Y on 380 quite a few times across a few carriers(including EK) and I hv never seen such zones except the exit/door areas in which smaller widebodies also hv them anyway.  While it's true that those exit/door areas on 380 main deck are larger than on smaller widebodies, there're also far more users in Y on a 380 who can fight(not literally of course unless U are on a UA flight...) with each other for the privilege to use those spaces too.

    "The EK A380 is a good example of this.."
    May be it's a good example but this example is rare among 380 operators.

    Anyway, the only reason 380 operators tend to be more generous about shared-space in the Y cabin is that if converting those spaces into more seats, it'll be even more difficult to sell all Y seats onboard @ sustainable avg fare.  Will be great news for Y consumers who will certainly win either way: more empty seats to spread out or lower avg fares on offer....not so good news for the 380 operators.
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  • traveller90

    traveller90

    24 Jun, 2017 09:25 am

    The standing zones I speak of are on EK's A380's ULH versions up the front of the Y cabin at the base of the stairs where the 5 toilets are and the standing area at the rear of the cabin also near the steps and toilets. Not a lounge environment I know, but makes for a nice place for Y passengers to stand, have a chat, stretch and enjoy a quiet drink, which many passengers do. Try to find this space on their 777's as all you'll find is a curtain divider at the front of the Y cabin and a cramped crew only galley at the rear of the Y cabin - definitely no standing spaces on this aircraft type which also does the 16+ hour journeys.

    Korean has their standing zone at their duty free shop at the rear of the Y cabin on their A380's, another zone enjoyed by Y class passengers for a drink and chat, Did not see however much shopping being done. The QF 747's also have a standing zone at the rear of their Y cabin located near their doors and rear cabin toilets. All the new and smaller airframes you speak of have galleys at the rear, usually curtained off in a way as to impede any change of stretching, chatting or enjoying a quiet drink to pass the miles. QF 789 will be a perfect example of this, cramped full with passengers with no standing zones of which I speak, reduced toilet numbers and this aircraft is for 18+ hour journeys. Makes you wonder! Give me the large "space ships" any day.

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22 May, 2019 03:12 pm

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